The Realm of the Fae
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Author: Helena Domenic
Posted: November 14th. 2010
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“The Faerie Tradition is not a faith, for faery beings exist whether or not we believe in them.” -- R. J. Stewart
In my many years as a visual artist, I have created many paintings of the Fae and have given a great deal of thought to what my connection to Faerie may be. I have come to believe that the Faeries and other beings of the Otherworld use me as a conduit for communication between this and their worlds. All of my paintings in recent years seem to have become gateways of a sort, and I believe that this is because it is becoming more necessary than ever for the human worlds and the Fae realms to work together more in a more amicable way.
My own gateway into Faerie is the art that I make. Often when I work, I may have a specific idea or image in mind when I begin. I find that sometimes the work begins to take on a life of its own, and begins to ‘sing’ to me in it’s own way. It is hard to find words for these kinds of experiences, which is why I am grateful for the gift of visual art. Images are a much easier way for me to communicate, and each person who wishes to work with Faerie will find their own particular gateway. As there are many different kinds of humans, there are also many different kinds of the Fae.
Some of the Faerie lore I have encountered states that when things are difficult in our world, they become better in the world of the Fae, but I think that the stresses we place on our own environment cause stress for the Faeries as well. One of the things I have taken away from my study of Faery is that relationships between the Fae and humans can be very beneficial as there are things we can do that they cannot do, and there are things they can do that human beings cannot. The purpose of this workshop is to explore who the Faeries are, the realms in which they dwell, and our own relationships with them.
Who are the Fae? Where do they come from?
Faeries hover just off the edge of vision, or are slightly out of focus. -- Nigel Suckling
Much of this discussion will focus on the Fae in the Celtic lands, but there are stories of the Fae from all over the world. Brian Froud notes in his essential Faeries book, “The words ‘fey’ and ‘faerie’ come from the French and started to replace the Old English ‘elf’ during the Tudor period. ‘Elfland, ’ and ‘Faerieland’ and ‘Elf’ and ‘Faerie’ were and still are interchangeable words.” In Norse lore, beings that are referred to as “wights” – which are defined as supernatural beings – include creatures such as Alfs, which include Light Alfs and Dark Alfs, and Swart Alfs, which are dwarves. For the Norse, the Alfs appear to be a kind of holy being, often mentioned in connection with the Aesir, although in Christian times, they seem to be considered malicious and capricious.
(I should pause here and state that I do not think of Faeries or the realm of the Fae as supernatural. Indeed, I believe that the Fae are deeply connected to the natural world and that we dismiss them as supernatural at our peril. We must begin to acknowledge these beings as part of our world and learn how to live in harmony with them if we are ever to get through our current environmental crises, although sometimes I do despair of humans ever being capable of this) .
In reading Norse lore, it does become clear that Tolkien took a great deal of inspiration from the Eddas in his description of his Elves of Middle Earth. The Light Alfs are considered to be very fair and bright folk, and seem to be closely connected to Freyr. They are closely connected to the sun, which is named alfropul, meaning, “Glory of the Alfs.”
The Dark Alfs are connected with the dead, and are also known as Mound Alfs. This term may also refer to the Mighty Dead, and to male ancestors in particular. Perhaps this tradition is what leads some to consider that humans dwell in the Realm of the Fae between lifetimes, although I do not know for certain if there is a connection here. It is also worth mentioning that elsewhere in the lore, women are mentioned as being amongst the dead, and being buried in mounds, or howes.
Our Troth notes that the Irish Sidhe and the Germanic Alfs are indeed very similar – that both enjoy singing and dancing, and that there is a Middle German equivalent – albleich – for the English term “Elf ring, ” As we will see in the Celtic lore, the Sidhe often dwell in mounds – as do the Alfs. The worship of ancestors buried in mounds goes back to the Stone Age in both Ireland and Scandinavia, so it seems reasonable to consider that the Sidhe and the Alfs are related.
Brian Froud relates the myth from Norse mythology of the maggots, which emerge from the corpse of the giant Ymir transforming themselves into the Light Alfs and the Dark Alfs. He also relates a later Icelandic story of how the elves are the hidden children of Eve – obviously a later Christian construction. In this story, Eve is washing her children when God appears. Ashamed that some of her children are still dirty, Eve hides them. God tells her that since she has hidden some of her children from him, they shall be forever hidden from the world – and become known as the Huldre Folk. This certainly seems a cruel punishment for not being ready for a surprise visit!
The Welsh also are full of stories about the Fae, and the Mabinogian is a great source for their tales. The Children of Llyr would seem to be connected to the Children of Dana – certainly Llyr is a Welsh version of Lir, the father of Manannan Mac Lir, whose origins, much like Dana or Danu – are not well known. Arthurian legend tells us the tale of the Island of Avalon, the Isle of Apples, where Arthur goes to receive healing after receiving his mortal wound in his last battle, and how he waits there to return at a time of great need. On the Isle of Avalon, Arthur sleeps in a Faerie Hill until that time.
A tremendous amount of lore about the Fae comes to us from the Irish. One might wonder why Ireland seems to be particularly full of the Fae. RJ Stewart says, “the land is alive teeming with energetic spiritual forces that over the centuries, the millenniums even, became personified as myriad forms: some human, some animal, some a mixture, theriomorphic forms that combine human, bird, animal, fish.” (Stewart, 2001, para 5) . There seems to be something particular about the island of Ireland itself that is still wild and untouched and alive with the Otherworld. The only unfortunate thing about some of the information that comes from Irish sources is that it was often written down by Irish monks. Fortunately, a lot of local lore that has been passed down orally and was written down in the early twentieth century also still exists, and combined with more current sources, we can get an idea of who the Fae are – although being human, we always are limited by our human experience.
Ireland was never conquered by Rome, and when Christianity arrived, it did not have the same slash and burn effect on local traditions and legends that it had in other lands. As a result, many tales and traditions were preserved, even if some of the local gods were transformed into Christian saints. Some of the stories that were written down by the monks include works such as The Book of Invasions, The Book of Leinster, The Book of the Dun Cow, The Book of Ballymote and the Tain Bo Cuilagne which is also known in English as The Cattle Raid of Cooley. Naturally, all of these were written down after hundreds of years of oral tradition, and then also possibly mistranslated or misconstrued by their Christian writers, who were boggled by certain aspects of Celtic culture, such as matrilineal descent, brehon law, and women as warriors.
The ancient literature of Ireland is divided into four branches or cycles:
1. The Mythological Cycle: covers the arrival of the Tuatha de Danaan and their overthrow by the Sons of Mil.
2. The Ulster Cycle, also known as the Red Branch Cycle: tells the stories of the Warriors of Ulster, King Conchobar, the warrior Cuchulain, Maeve and Aillil (The Cattle Raid of Cooley) , and Fergus MacRoy.
3. The Fenian or Ossianic Cycle: Covers the stories of Finn MacCumhal (MacCool) and his Fenian Warriors.
4. The Historical Cycle: Tells of the Kings and Queens of Ireland.
The divisions are not absolute – characters from the Mythological Cycle show up in the Ulster Cycle. Medieval Scholars believed the events described prior to the Historical Cycle took place around the time of the birth of Christ. The Fenian Cycle actually dates to the Third Century CE in the reign of Cormac MacArt and is closer to real history. The Historical Cycle covers events from that period up until the Viking Raids of the 8th Century CE.
The Tuatha de Danaan
The Book of Invasions tells of the arrival of people who descended from the sky in flying ships amidst a great storm cloud with covered all of Ireland for three days. These people were more like what we would think of as Gods or even Tolkien’s elves; they were talented in music and all the arts and sciences. They were also taller than the local population and were fair in complexion. They were known as the Tuatha de Danaan, meaning “Children of Dana.” Dana is also known as Danu, or Anu, or Ana.
The Goddess Danu is rather mysterious to us – her name appears in the form of many place names, such as the River Danube, and Danu is identical to Anu, Anna, Aine, and she is possibly also analogous to the Welsh Goddess Don. Unfortunately, not much else survives to tell us about her. Interestingly, she is the consort of the Daghda, the Father God – and when the Tuatha came to Ireland, they brought the Daghda, but not Danu…. At least as far as we can tell! Peter Beresford Ellis suggests perhaps they left her behind in the form of the River Danube when they trekked across Europe. Similarly, the geographic origins of the Tuatha de Danaan are rather mysterious to us as well.
In The Book of the Dun Cow, scholars state that they don’t know where the Tuatha de Danaan came from and they were believed to be of heavenly origin due to their great intelligence and skill. They are described as having come from four great Northern cities: Falias, Gorias, Finias, and Murias. From each of these cities came four great treasures, which eventually became known as the Hallows of Britain: From Falias, the Stone of Destiny; from Gorias, The Sword of Nuada; from Finias the Spear of Victory; and from Murias, a magickal cauldron which never emptied.
There are four cities that no mortal eye has seen: Gorias, that is in the East, and Finias that is in the South, and Murias that is in the West, and Falias that is in the North. And the symbol of Falias is the stone of death, which is crowned with pale fire. And the symbol of Gorias is the dividing sword. And the symbol of Finias is a spear. And the symbol of Murias is a hollow that is filled with water and fading light. -- The Little Book of the Great Enchantment by Fiona Macleod
It was said of these four cities that they were the places where the Tuatha de Danaan had gained their power and learned magickal arts. The Stone of Destiny, from Falias, was said to cry out whenever a true king of Ireland sat upon it. It was also known as the Lia Faill and resided at Tara, the seat of kingship in Ireland. From Gorias, the Sword of Nuada was said to always reach its mark once having been pulled from its sheath. From Finias, came the Spear of Lugh Himself, and from Murias, the cauldron of the Daghda Himself.
We can’t say for sure how old the old oral traditions about the Faerie may be. The prehistoric site of New Grange was built around 3000 BC by an unknown people. The Irish themselves believe it was the Tuatha de Danaan who built it. The Book of Ballymote from the fourteenth century states that it contains the Faerie mounds of Lugh, Ogma, Etain, Boann, and Angus.
The ancient stories that have come down say that the Faeries retreated into the Otherworld after their defeat at the hands of the Milesians – The Sons of Mil. The Milesians were also of divine descent and had their own powerful druids. They were the ancestors of the Gaels and defeated the Tuatha and took over their land. The written history we have of the Milesians gives them a biblical history, stating that they came originally from Scythia and then migrated to Egypt, and then to Spain. Having seen art from Scythia and knowing that Scythians reached the height of their civilization around the 3rd century BCE, this could nearly seem plausible.
Once the Tuatha were defeated by the Milesians, according to Lady Gregory inGods and Fighting Men, the Tuatha asked Manannan Mac Lir to decide things for them before they departed for the West due to his great age and wisdom. He portioned out the most beautiful hills and valley for them to settle in and raised magickal walls around these places these places so they were hidden from human eyes and only the Tuatha could come and go as they pleased. Many of the Tuatha sailed West to the Land of the Young, also known as Tir na nOg and some retreated into the parallel world whose gateways were the faerie mounds and hills – the Sidhe – from which the name The Riders of the Sidhe comes.
In spite of retreating from the mortal world, the Tuatha continued on as before. According to some accounts, it was the Daghda who portioned out the land – there is much confusion in sorting out the chronology of events and rulers. The ruler who is said to rule to this day is Finvarra, who rules from the faerie hill of Knockma in Galway with his wife, Oonagh, said to be the most beautiful woman in all the realms. (In spite of this, Finvarra is fond of mortal women and will often go out in search of them) . Meetings and exchanges continue to this day between faeries and humans, and there are places and times of year when the veils between the worlds are thin.
In the Book of Invasions the Tuatha society is described as consisting of ‘gods’ and ‘non-gods.’ This has sometimes been interpreted as meaning they fell somewhere between being gods and humans; but a much more likely reading was that their society was divided, as was ancient Celtic society, between nobles and warriors and their wives, druids and bards – and the rest who were basically servants dependent on the needs of their masters. (Suckling, 2007, p. 131) .
Typically, invisible beings have been divided into three categories: Angels, Demons, and Elements – and Elementals were divided into the four separate philosophical elements and were considered to be separate from the Tuatha. Christianity brings the tale that Faeries were fallen angels who were not good enough for heaven, and not evil enough for hell.
The Dead or the Ancestors are sometimes counted amongst the Fae – however, the dead are considered to be a separate class but are sometimes seen among the Faerie Troops. There are some who believe that humans may linger with the Fae in between lives before reincarnating.
According to Robert Kirk, who wrote The Secret Commonwealth, there are five classes of Faeries:
1. The Tuatha or Sidhe who are usually taller, wiser, and more talented than humans.
2. The Good People – often as tall as humans and young and beautiful but more frivolous – they direct the currents of the earth.
3. The Little People who may vary in size, but usually look tiny, beautiful, and dance in the air. (RJ Stewart posits that smaller faeries may be part of a “hive being” to make up a larger being) .
4. A little smaller are the leprechauns, brownies, Cornish piskies, and Breton corrigans and garden gnomes who are all said to be full of mischief.
5. The gnomes that are gloomy, thickset earth spirits of about two feet in height.
There are some contemporary writers who contend that the diminutive faeries of the Victorian Era are fantasies, and do not reflect the reality of who the Fae are, although not many. It seems the diminished version of the Faeries has become very popular, even if it is inaccurate. Faeries are far more interesting than these pale creatures and more dangerous. This leads us into our next area of discussion.
How Do We Make Contact with the Realm of Faery? Should We Make Contact with the Realm of Faerie?
One thing of which all seekers of this particular realm should always keep in mind is that the Realm of Faerie can be a very dangerous place. There are many misinterpretations of who the Fae really are, much of which has been furthered by the current interest in Faerie. Faeries are not light, sweet innocent creatures and some of them may not even be at all interested in contact with humans. Orion Foxwood states, “Not all faerie beings desire association with humanity. But some do. Specifically the Trooping Fae which are the inner tribes that move in and out of the Earth’s heart and interact with all orders of life. They have had encounters and exchanges with humanity ever since we were imaged by Gaia and they know the roots of our world.”
Having had contact with the human world may be part of what drives some Fae away. An environmental disaster such as the recent BP Gulf oil spill is a good example of an event that would drive the Fae away from contact with our world in order to preserve their own. We must also keep in mind that although a great many writers have described the Fae, they are describing their own experiences with the particular realms and types of Fae they have encountered – the Fae are as diverse as the human race and there are many, many types.
Interestingly, in his book The Living Realm of Faery, R. J. Stewart discusses a difference he sees in the Fae described by attendees on different sides of the Atlantic, “The unadorned style seemed typically American; faery beings will appear naked, or clad in feathers, leaves, skins. The adorned style seems to be typically Scots or Irish where the same classes of being … are dressed in scale armor, jeweled helmets, flowing robes….” (Stewart, 1995, p. xx) . He also considers the ‘little faeries’ often described in contemporary lore to have little or no connection to true Faeries – they are emasculation, although he does find some validity in the plant devas described by the Findhorn community.
The story of the Reverend Robert Kirk stands as a somewhat cautionary tale to those who might visit the Fae, or even speak poorly of them. Robert Kirk was a Scottish Reformation Age minister and writer who became obsessed with the Faerie Faith through the trial of a woman known as Allison Parson, who was accused of trafficking with Faerie. The Scottish king of the time, James I – who is known to have translated the Bible to read, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live, ” had condemned numerous women to the stake for witchcraft. In this climate, Kirk wrote The Secret Commonwealth, a kind of guide to Faerie, although he condemned the Faerie as being evil. In spite of this, he was obviously also deeply fascinated by them.
According to legend, “One evening, clad in his nightshirt, he was walking by the local faerie fort where he collapsed. The next day, all that was found was his nightshirt. He was declared dead, but after his funeral, he appeared to his cousin Graham whom he told he had been abducted by the Fae and was being held in the Hollow Hills. He told his cousin that he had been given permission to come to his new born child’s christening feast – and at the moment of his appearance, Graham must throw a knife at him and that the iron in the knife would break the spell. Graham was so shocked when Kirk did actually appear that he could do nothing, and so Kirk vanished from sight.” (Cavendish, 2000, p 35) . To this day, Kirk’s descendants are said to attempt to bring him back every year, but to no avail. There are some who assert that Kirk’s guidance can actually be sought in the Realm of the Fae, although given his writings and low opinion of the Fae, I don’t know if I would want to trust him as a source!
Other historical contacts between human and the Fae have proved much more harmonious and advantageous, as in the story of the Irish harper Carolan. In his legend, he was enamoured of a young woman who was not interested in him – she preferred a man who was a musician. In Irish tradition, The Sidhe have yearly hurling, which end in a draw unless one team can get a mortal to play for them. (It is not stated in the lore why this is so) . Carolan, who had been desperately ill, was taken up by the faeries and played the hurling match with them – and he scored the winning point for the Queen of the Fae. She asked him what gift she could give him, and he replied that all he wanted was the gift of music. From then on, he became one of Ireland’s greatest musicians and composers.
Another famous tale of an encounter between the Fae and a human is recounted in the folk song “Thomas the Rhymer.” The song dates back to Thirteenth Century Scotland and refers to an actual historical figure, Thomas Learmouth of Earlston. There are several versions of the song, but the story is generally the same: Thomas encounters the Queen of the Fae, and she takes him with her to Faerieland, where he dwells for a time. He is returned back to Scotland after seven years, with the gift of “The Tongue that cannot lie, ” also known as prophecy. He became known as a great prophet for some years, and after a time, returned to the Fae Realm where it is said he dwells to this day. Like Robert Kirk, he is also sometimes noted as a contact for humans seeking the Fae.
Finally, another famous encounter is recounted in another folk song, that of Tam Lin. In this story, Tam Lin is the captive of the Faeries. He has impregnated a local young noble woman (I am greatly simplifying here) who he charges with the task of rescuing him from the Queen of the Faeries on Halloween. Here, the faeries are not at all benign, and intend to use Tam Lin as part of their yearly tithe to hell. His young lover, Janet, must wait for the Faerie folk to ride on Halloween, and to look for the rider on the white horse (himself) and pull the rider down. The Faeries then change him into all sorts of beasts in an attempt to frighten Janet, but she holds fast. He then is able to escape the Faeries, but not without a curse from the “Angry Faerie Queen.” The tale seems to serve as both a tale of human loyalty and bravery and a warning against meddling with the ephemeral Fae.
If faeries are much larger and much more dangerous than we have previously thought, then why should we seek contact with them? One compelling reason is to work with the Fae to create greater global balance in this time of multiple environmental crises. R. J. Stewart points out in The Living Realm of Faery that sometimes spirits of the land – Genius Locii – are spontaneously contacted in contemporary Faery work. If we are fortunate enough to have such an experience, we can get direct insight into the kind of work that is needed for doing healing work in our local environments. If we are to work with the Fae in this manner, then we must approach them with great respect and awareness of their power, bearing in mind that we also have our own unique gifts.
R. J. Stewart does provide some excellent information on particular prohibitions for humans to honor when working with the Fae. Hopefully, some of these will be obvious, but there may be times when human ignorance trumps understanding the sacred. Prohibitions include things such as interfering with faerie lines and paths (to be covered in a moment) , cutting down faerie bushes, trees, or flowers. Also prohibited is the removal or moving of faerie stones, and the disturbance of ancient burial sites, which are guarded by the fae.
Brian Froud mentions that respectful and discreet observation may be rewarded if one is a “friendly watcher.” He also mentions an old trick for bringing the faerie forth which is to walk nine times around a Faerie Hill at the Full Moon, and the Fae folk will emerge. However, outright trespassing is prohibited.
Other prohibitions are the kind which one hears of in many faerie tales – do not eat any Faerie food whilst visiting the Fae realm, do not exchange gifts or names with the Fae – however, some of these prohibitions may be intentionally broken in order to either open up or close relationships with the Fae. During the Christian era, many prohibitions listed are the kind that will keep one out of faerie, or prevent them from communicating with us. There will be times when the gift of Second Sight is to be welcomed, and when one wishes to know one’s Faerie ally’s name.
According to R. J. Stewart, faery lines or paths may cut across a field, or through a wood – without necessarily linking two locations – rather than linking locations in our world, these are links between realms. These lines and paths have magical and healing properties as well as initiatory purposes. The lines and paths are alive – an organic network where power flows not only through the land but also between the realms. These lines do not necessarily conform to known ley lines or energy lines – in the realm of the Fae, the laws by which we abide do not necessarily apply.
There are two kinds of Faerie lines – the first is the ancient kind that can be confirmed by local folklore – stories told of paths that lead humans astray. The second kind is those discovered either by accident by unwitting humans, or those that we discover with intent. As mentioned above, the laws by which we abide do not necessarily apply in the realm of the Fae – many of these rules have something to do with time – as Faerie lines can exist outside the realm of time all together. Some of them are semi-permanent, others of a shorter duration, perhaps only arising for a particular purpose. Some may be short – only a few feet – while others may be a few miles long. As humans, we might use the lines to work with our Faerie ally, or to learn more about a particular space or place. Faerie lines are but one way with which we might work with our Fae allies.
R. J. Stewart speaks of the Faerie Alliance – one in which we as humans work not only with the Fae, but also with beings of the natural world – to create a Threefold Alliance. He notes, “A threefold alliance of human, faery, and creature can go anywhere in any realm or world, and is regarded as one of the major achievements of the Faery and Underworld initiations. Yet it is only a beginning, for once it has taken form, the Alliance has to learn now to work together, and then undertake tasks.” (Stewart, 1995, p. 47) .
Our role as human beings in this alliance is to act as a bridge between worlds, to bring a greater connection to consciousness and energy to other life forms. In our modern world, we have cut ourselves off a great deal from the natural world and especially from the openness that allows us communication with the Realm of Faerie. Working in this kind of alliance is a way in which we can connect more deeply with our own planet, and our fellow beings who live on it.
R. J. Stewart notes, “The old seers and seeresses worked with faerie allies for vision, knowledge, distance healing, and many deeper transformations and healings. Indeed, without the deeper interactions, the seemingly supernatural alliance can not fully develop.” (Stewart, 1995, p. 47) . Once again, we are reminded of the ways in which the modern world has not been open to these deeper connections between humans, the Fae, and our own natural world, and planet.
The question for us at this point may then be – HOW do we find and create these connections? What can we do to work with the Fae and establish our own alliances? As always, meditation is key to any magical work, and is an excellent place to start. It is very easy to find the work of R. J. Stewart and Orion Foxwood and to work with the meditations and procedures they have established, and they certainly are valid. The important thing to remember when accessing Faerie through their methods, however, is that you are contacting only one kind of Fae, and there are myriad kinds.
I recommend beginning with established techniques – in order to be as safe as possible – and then to begin meditating and seeking your own connections. One can do this through visualization, and energy techniques. Indeed, energy can be awakened and re-aligned through creative imagery, narratives, and visualization, as well as ritual, movement, meditation, and ‘sink or swim’ encounter techniques. I have also heard that simply listening to the music of Carolan – the harper who was himself gifted by the Fae – will transport you into Faerie. Certainly it makes a nice backdrop for meditations and other work.
The material I’ve covered here is by no means the only information on Faeries – hopefully it will inspire you to begin your own search and discover which realm of the Fae is the one in which you can be an ally.
References For Faerie Article
Cavendish, L. (2010) . “The Scandalous Abduction of Reverend Robert Kirk.” In the Summer 2010 edition of FAE magazine, pp 34 – 35. Cornwall, United Kingdom: Pixie Publishing, LTD.
Ellis, P. B. (2002) . A Brief History of the Druids. Carroll and Graf Publishers.
Foxwood, O. (2010) . “A Call to Co-Creative Action” in FAE Magazine, Summer 2010. Cornwall, United Kingdom: Pixie Publishing, LTD.
Foxwood, O. (2003) . The Faery Teachings. Coral Springs, FL: Muse Press.
Gundarsson, K. H. (Ed.) (2006) . Our Troth Volume One: History and Lore. North Charleston, S.C.: BookSurge, LLC.
Stewart, R. J. (1995) . The Living World of Faery. Toxaway, NC: Mercury Publishing.
Stewart, R. J. (2001) . The Irish Faerie Tradition and the Living Land. http://www.rjstewart.org/irish-faery.html. Retrieved October 21, 2010.
Suckling, N. (2007) . Faeries of the Celtic Lands. United Kingdom: AAPPL Artists and Photographers Press LTD.
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