This post has been kicking around my drafts folder for a little bit. It doesn’t seem mediocre enough to trash, so I’ll share for the heck of it; it kind of fits with the lunar kick that I have been on for a few.
Lately I have had faeries on the brain. I have been curious after the sluagh, looking a little into their mythology. R. J. Stewart has found his way back into the house thanks to my partner. In a Stewart-ian vein, I also stumbled across this interesting piece by his friend, Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki (she gives Stewart a well-deserved shout out within it). What follows is very notebooky.
Stewart’s books on faerie are odd things for me. The methods he employs are quite alien to my personal practice: the sorts of theosophical and ceremonial magic inspired guided meditations and visualizations don’t float my boat. It isn’t exactly that they don’t work for me, but they don’t produce the depth of connection for me that they provide him. The illustrations that find their way into his books are often trite and treacly, off-putting given the tenor of actual fairy. But when he gets down to the business of talking about the faerie folk? Yeah, I know that of which he speaks; he has his fingers in the socket.
Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki’s talk has some of the same things going. That her point of access differs from mine shows up in how she thinks, talks, and experiences them. And yet, beneath all those divergences, there is something I recognize. When she says they live in a perpetual present…well, that doesn’t quite seem wrong, but it doesn’t seem exactly right either. When she identifies them with nature, again, it doesn’t seem quite right, but it isn’t wrong.
She associates them with the forces attached to Pan and, rightly I suspect, notes their precedence to the gods and goddesses of the pantheons:
You hear that Zeus – or Jupiter in the Roman pantheon – was brought up and nurtured by nymphs, in a cave, surrounded by animals….If we are going to talk about the oldest of the old, we need only go as far as two particular immortal forms. One is Pan. You never find him mentioned amongst the great pantheon of Olympus. But he is there. And even the Gods will tell you in their many legends, that he is the oldest of the old, he was here before time began.
Let me note, briefly, an important synchronicity. Compare this talk of Pan to Gordon’s talk about Janus:
These fuzzy origins seem quite appropriate for Janus because, despite his ‘pater’ title, he does not sit atop a divine family and appears to be an ancient import. The general consensus being that he originated somewhere in the Near East. His similarity to Isimud, a messenger figure of Enki, has not gone unnoticed.
To that I would add that ‘bringing bird-headed figures’ before Ea, combined with his evident popularity among sailors and foreigners in Roman ports may speak to an older provenance still. Possibly even Neolithic. Janus is just sort of… there. In the pantheon. Interestingly, Hekate is also out of place at her family reunions (on an esoteric level, much of her power comes from pre-dating Olympus which means she is not subject to the upstart Zeus’s diktats) and the two of them share a hymn.
We are back, again, in this more amorphous, pre-pantheonic world, looking at powers that may precede and form the backdrop for the emergence of the divine in the historical period.
Think about the context of the mythic backdrop Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki summons, in which the god is nourished by the faerie. It make me suspicious of what she will assert later:
All forms of Gods, in every pantheon are the forms that we, as human beings, have decided they should wear. We were the ones who decided that Hermes should have winged sandals. We were the ones who decided that Zeus has a full head of hair and an equally full-face beard.
Did we decide, or was there a negotiation, from which the faeries could not be excluded? If they could not be excluded, why might that be?
My bet is that she is close to something when she thinks of them as the powers of nature, but that what she might not appreciate is that they are deeply embededed within the ‘astral’ world she describes:
its [the astral] only existence is to provide form which when it is no longer thought about, goes back into its normal matrix self.
By making the astral a passive medium which human control, she dramatically overstates our agency. She also overlooks a valuable insight–what is it that faeries are most tightly associated with? Trickery and its cousin, inspiration. In other words, those things that depend upon the astral matrix she describes.
I suspect that a lot of faries *are* the astral, its native intelligences. While they are responsive to human thought, they aren’t beholden to it; they can manifest through it in ways that we do not control or even understand. In somewhat more traditional occult terms, they are the spirits of the moon, of Yesod.
If that is the case, then we can grasp how important those ‘minor’ immortals are–it is in part through them that the godforms come into existence. Those higher immortalities that descend into our world, acquire form with faerie and human aid. While Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki likes to imagine that
you only have to think, oh yes, Aphrodite and up she comes.
we might suggest that what comes is the astral/yesodic/lunar figure through which Aphrodite might come, not Aphrodite, not the higher force of creation which operates under that name from time to time. Aphrodite herself is a whole ‘nother matter, methinks, than her form.
Which makes the turn toward iconoclasm among Jewish and Islamic religion especially interesting, right? Iconoclasm helps limit the influence faeires have on the human-divine interaction.
Okay, let’s shift gears (and websites; this next quote comes from one Kim McNamara-Wilson) for a moment and take a look at the sluagh for a moment, shall we? Here is a little summary of the folklore:
The Sluagh exists on stealing the souls of the living, and especially the dying. Huddling and hiding in forgotten and dark places, they lay in wait for nightfall. Once the sun has left the sky, they strike out, in what, to the untrained or unsuspecting eye, appears to be a vast and ominous flock of large ravens or other birds. Flapping wings, screeching, and a whirlwind of undulating shadows are all you’d witness as the Sluagh descends for an attack. Owing to the folklore of the Wild Hunt, countless cultures and legends still link black birds (and especially ravens) as evil omens or signals of upcoming misfortune.
Without investing too much in what may be a superstitious trace of older lore, I think we can make sense of this in light of faeries as astral intelligences. Why do the sluagh present such a danger? Well, it is because they are capturing intelligences operating on the astral, intelligences capable of weaving it to capture the departing spark before it has shed its yesodic body.
Pan, Hekate, bird-headed figures, the dangers surrounding birth and death, changelings, old powers of the earth itself. Let’s jump back to Gordon for a moment:
This is January, the month of Janus, and today is one of his feast days. The Agonalia.
An agonalia is one of those archaic festivals that persisted despite its original purpose being lost to the mists of time. The name of the festival, however, clearly derives from ‘sacrificial victim‘.
A sacrificial victim who becomes an apotropaic figure. A deliberate effort to insert into the astral a figure that creates dramatic changes in the dangerous astral…that is suggestive, too, right? Maybe we should all go back to Le Guin’s parable of Omelas and read it as something more than a parable? A figure embedded in the astral to help protect from/please faeries?
The importance of this material is enhanced by its parallels beyond the Indo-European sphere. Consider the Yoruba concern with the abiku and aje and their parallels to the changeling children and sluagh (including the injunction against speaking the words ‘sluagh’ or ‘aje’ too casually).
Or, more dramatically, consider the cihuateteo of the Aztecs and their ties with Tlazolteotl. While we can imagine a somewhat complicated historical explanation for the Yoruba-Scots-Irish parallels, it gets a little harder when we start talking about precontact Mesoamerica. A common set of things, described through quite different cultural lenses, yes. But also: different sets of practices/protocols/treaties negotiated in different places and times for working with the same sorts of things.
Then I am thinking about that Norman Bergrun video Gordon posted a while back–it ranged all over the place, but the idea that astronauts were seeing on the moon something that deliberately mimiced the appearance of the astronauts and their vehicles…the video is blurry enough that I wouldn’t bet anything on it, but it’s suggestive to say the least.
They may be less the spirits of nature than the spirits that regulate the invisible codes that help structure nature.