World Folk Tales
by Mary DeDanan
|1) Turn off your TV, radio, computer, cell phone, etc.
2) Go outside, to a place where it is hushed and untamed -- forest, meadow, creekside, ocean beach, mountain, your own garden. Note: if you go really far out to the wilds, remember that while you may be engaged in a totally non-rational activity, you should never be stupid. Keep all your wood-wise skills about you. Otherwise, don't go out so far.
3) There are traditional times of the year to seek faeries, at least those of European origin: May Day (May 1) and All Hallows Day (November 1) are the biggies, with runners-up at the Solstices: Midsummer (June 21) and Yule (December 21 -- how do you think that "jolly old elf" business started?). The old Celtic method of reckoning time is from night to night -- thus May Eve, Midsummer Eve, Halloween, and Yule Eve are "it." In practice, I've found that you have a good couple days on either side of the holiday when "the veil is thin," as folklore says.
4) I've also had good luck under a full moon, any time of year. Daytime works too. My favorite time (and very traditional) is the gloaming, when the sun has set but it's not yet dark. (Unfortunately, it's also mosquito time.)
5) Good idea to bring a small offering: flowers, food, ribbons, shells, pretty pebbles, silver coins, a poem written out. To this day, if you visit the old places of Britain and Ireland, you will find venerable trees by wells or standing stones with ribbons and rags tied as offerings to their branches. Lore has it that faeries don't like iron/steel, and are quite partial to milk. Native American spirits are said to prefer tobacco or cornmeal. Use your imagination. Carry your offering until you come to a place that feels "right" to leave it. If at ocean or creek, you might toss your offering into the water, or sail it on a little bark boat. Alternatively, I do a service for the land when I'm out walking in daytime, like pick up trash at the beach or pull out alien thistle seedlings in the hills. The land appreciates it, and that's what counts.
6) Quiet yourself. Quiet your mind. Be fully present. Pay attention to what's around you. Breathe deep.
7) Be aware of your peripheral vision. Practice "owl vision," an exercise I learned from Starhawk, one of my teachers: Hold both arms out to your sides and wiggle your fingers. Now move your arms back or forward slowly, til you can just see *both* hands while your eyes look ahead. This is your field of peripheral vision. Get to know it. As you walk, be in full awareness of what's on your sides, in soft focus.
8) Practice walking like a slithery cat, slowly, on silent paws. Your object isn't to stalk anything, but to blend in and connect to the energies here; to not be a big, noisy, blundering stranger to the place, whom everything runs away from. You may want to stop and sit -- if you are motionless, hushed, and patient, it takes about 20 minutes for the forest to forget you're there, and everything to go on as usual around you.
9) Okay, you're here, the place is right, the timing's right, you're quiet, and you're paying attention. Now what? Now it's luck, and intention. Walking or sitting, get yourself fully grounded to the place you're in. Acknowledge the seven directions: north, east, south, west, above, below, and "here," center. Attune yourself to the spirit of the place, the genii loci. Respectfully ask to make a connection. Specify that you seek to meet a faery who would be a helper, an ally, a healer, and a true friend. Then be patient, see what you can intuit. Stay focused, and if your mind wanders, gently bring it back. I've honestly never heard of anyone who saw faeries in full-color, physical flesh. Spirits will signal themselves in other ways, for instance, with distinct flashes of light in your peripheral vision. If you sense a strong presence, one option is to close your eyes and ask if the faery will appear to you in your mind's eye. (Just because you see it "inside" doesn't mean it's not real.) You may ask questions, seek advice. Listen, really truly listen, but remember that, like humans, faeries can vary in their wisdom. In any case, be alert to the unusual and synchronistic. I have seen odd patches of rainbow light exactly when and where I looked up, a flaming meteor shoot across the north star just when I acknowledged the north, and yes, those fascinating peripheral-vision lights. Wonderfully strange things have happened that left me no doubt that I made contact of one sort or another. Once I even saw the end of a full rainbow, right *there.* I thought, well you never know, pots of gold and all, and walked over -- and of course, it shifted the moment I approached. Never let it be said that the fey folk don't have a sense of humor.
10) Another method is to commune with a plant spirit. (Gardeners and herbalists especially like this one.) Find yourself an attractive plant or tree. Sit down beside it. Go through the same centering, acknowledging, and attuning as above. Gently touch the plant, sniff it, study it. Close your eyes and try to energetically "enter" it. With the spirit's permission, let yourself merge with the plant. Possibly, the plant spirit may take a faery form and appear in your mind's eye. Listen to what it may tell you. Ask the plant spirit if it has any healing properties. Sometimes you may connect with the deva of an individual plant, sometimes with the totem spirit of all that species. Note: don't get too spaced out doing this. One of my dear and normally wood-wise teachers, while teaching a workshop, sent us out to look for our plants, went off herself in a trance-y state, and unified with a lovely, emerald-green patch of poison oak.
11) Always, always, formally end a faery connection. When finished, say thank you, and really let yourself feel gratitude. If you haven't yet made your offering, this is a good time. You may want to honor a spirit presence with a song (faeries are very fond of music). Your spirit being may want to give you a song to remember, or last words of wisdom, or perhaps something else. Say goodbye. Open your eyes if they were closed, invigorate your breathing, stretch, move. Be sure to fully come back to your own personal boundaries, pat the edges of your body, say your own name. It's easy to get spaced out doing this kind of work; be firm about pulling yourself back together and orienting yourself exactly. When I get home, I always write in my journal any details I want to remember. As much as I think I won't forget, I will.
12) Yet another method to connect with Faery is through dreams. There are the night-time sleep dreams (chance-y, but very magical when it happens), and there are "awake dreams" which include meditation, visualizations, and full trance. To bring myself a sleep dream, I meditate on my intention (whom I hope to contact and why), perhaps read appropriate stories or myths, tell myself that I wish to dream of Faery before/while I fall asleep, and see what happens. In truth, sometimes nothing. And sometimes I've had amazing dreams with no prep at all. For "awake dreams" from your nice comfy house, adapt the steps in 9, 10, and 11, above. A steady, soft drum beat helps immensely-- you can get cassette tapes to play so you can relax. You can simply lie down and go for it, or light candles and get fancy. Be sure to ground yourself, acknowledge the directions, and so on. Close your eyes. Strongly visualize your favorite place in nature. When it feels very real, then follow the same steps as above.
|For further reading, I recommend these for starters.
Out of print books can be found in used book stores (the hunt is half the fun). Or
try online at one of the largest used bookstores anywhere -- and an independent bookseller!
• Any of the books by dedicated folklorist Katharine Briggs, especially "An Encyclopedia of Fairies," Pantheon Books, 1976.
• Eliot Cowan has a great book on working with plant totems: "Plant Spirit Medicine," Swan Raven & Co, Newberg, OR, 1995.
• An amazing early study is folklorist W.Y. Evans Wentz's "The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries," first published in 1911, reprinted a couple times. As a graduate student of Stanford around the turn of the last century, Evans Wentz went out to the field (rather literally) and interviewed all the old folks he could find who still believed in, and saw, faeries. Later in his career, he was the first Westerner to translate the "Tibetan Book of the Dead."
• R.J. Stewart is a Scot now living in Northern California, and someone I consider a serious authority on Faery. His books tend to be a bit rambling and esoteric, but there's a lot of excellent material -- I suggest skipping bits when it get sloggy. "The Underworld Initiation," Aquarian Press, England, 1985. "Earth Light," Element Books, 1992. "The Living World of Faery," Gothic Image, England, 1995. R.J. Stewart also has a very interesting website, dreampower.com, where he's made available the full text of two rare books about Faery.
• W.B. Yeats does wonderful things with traditional stories in "Irish Fairy and Folk Tales" (reprinted many times). And his early poetry is full of authentic, magical faery lore.
• Read the old faerytales, of which there are numerous collections, particularly Andrew Lang's. Consider them not just as cute kid stories, but as imaginative code that kept alive elder beliefs.
|"Gil-galad was an Elven-king.
Of him the harpers sadly sing
the last whose realm was fair and free
between the Mountains and the Sea."
a verse of a ballad from The Fellowship of The Ring by J.R.R.Tolkien
|Mary DeDanan is a writer who lives and gardens in the wild coastal hills of Northern California. As a bookworm child, her favorite reading material was faerytale and myth. For the last nine years, she's been deeply involved in the earth-based spirituality movement, aka Paganism, as a storyteller, teacher, singer, and priestess of workshops and seasonal celebrations.|
See companion piece Faery Lore, Folk, and Fine.
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