The Quincy Unitarian Church Home
The list of Selected Sermons.
Presented January 23, 2005, by Paul Miller
THE HOSTING OF THE SIDHE
by: William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
THE host is riding from Knocknarea
And over the grave of Clooth-na-Bare;
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling "Away, come away:
Empty your heart of its mortal dream.
The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round,
Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
Our breasts are heaving, our eyes are agleam,
Our arms are waving, our lips are apart;
And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the deed of his hand,
We come between him and the hope of his heart."
The host is rushing 'twixt night and day,
And where is there hope or deed as fair?
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling "Away, come away."
Ten Lessons Faerie Taught Me
lyrics by Elvendrums
Into the core of my spirit, pulled in
Into the cavernous magic within
How deep can I go?
I never will know
As long as I hold back the spin
Connections I'm making become
One with the sound of my voice and my drum
Deep layers inside
No place left to hide
The time to be elven has come!
And those who reveal and then race
By firelight and candlelit face
take pieces of soul
I cannot control
As they flee to a lonelier place.
All that I am I can see
Embracing the depths that are me
Lifetimes of Will
Of passion and scent of the sea.
My longing for them once again
For voices and velvet of skin
It spans time and space
Yet I cannot replace
The marks they have left deep within.
So Run rhymer
Run away from the magic within you
Run away from the faeries behind you
Run away from the full moon above you
Run away from all that you are…
There's places you've been
That lie in between
The crescent of moon
And the sun…
Do you believe in Faeries? Like most Pagans, yes, I do. What I believe about Faeries is a harder question to answer. Today I want to talk about the various theories of what Faeries are, and then I want to tell some stories about my own encounters with the Fey.
First, a story: one of many that will be interpreted differently by believers or skeptics.
One morning I passed a road-killed owl on the highway. Not wishing such an elegant creature to suffer further indignity of being squished and resquished into pavement pizza, I spirited him away in my truck. I laid him to rest in the pine forest and said a few words for his spirit.
Was it a token of appreciation arranged by the owl god that appeared in my mailbox that afternoon? Two brass bookmarks, in the shape of owls, arrived, unsolicited, from Mensa Boutique. Alright, it could be coincidence. As far as I know, the owl god doesn't work at Mensa Boutique. It could also be coincidence that while walking in the woods the next week, I found an owl feather lying conspicuously in the middle of the path. It's the only owl feather I have ever found not attached to an owl. Pagans say that our deeds, good or ill, return to us times 3. Two owl bookmarks plus one owl feather makes a threefold return. Coincidence?
I returned to the owl's resting place, expecting to see a skeleton or feathers, but not a trace remained. He had been spirited away again; perhaps by a coyote, or perhaps by the spirit who had thrice returned my kindness.
That sort of seeming coincidence or synchronicity, I attribute to the nature spirits whom I call Faeries.
So what are Faeries? The word Faerie comes from the Roman "fates": supernatural women who liked to visit newborn children. This became "fey" in old English, meaning enchanted or bewitched, and Faerie became the name for them who do the enchanting. When Faeries are mentioned, most normal people think of the stereotypical Tinkerbelle archetype; a tiny humanoid with gossamer wings, usually spelled "fairy". The faeries I know don't look like that, and are usually spelled "Faerie".
Okay, so what, or who, are the Faeries? There are many theories:
There is only the product of overactive childish imagination, and can be explained by scientifically known natural phenomena and coincidence, or fraud.
Yes, some, maybe most, Faerie experiences are phoney baloney, but I think many are real. I often see things that aren't there when I look closer. We see with our minds as well as our eyes, and often, believing is seeing. So, I will admit, many faerie sightings are illusions and nothing more.
Some Faerie sightings are hoaxes. The Cottingley Faries, for instance. In 1917 , two Yorkshire, England girls produced some fairly convincing photographs of themselves in the company of several tiny winged fairies. It caused quite a stir among researchers of the supernatural, but many years later, the women admitted it was a hoax. The fairies were cardboard cutouts skillfully posed for the camera. The women insisted, however, that they had seen real fairies, and they were trying to reproduce what they had seen.
At the end of the great celestial civil war, God cast Lucifer and his army of angels from heaven. The really bad guys went straight to Hell. The ones who weren't that bad got stuck here on earth with us mortals. Methinks this is an attempt to cram Pagan spirits into Christian mythology.
There are still races of little people, pigmies and such. As modern Europeans migrated into new lands thousands of years ago, they found pre-historic predecessors, or their artifacts. When I visited Neolithic and bronze-age barrows in England, it was easy to imagine magical ground-dwelling people inhabiting them. Once in a while, remains are found of what might be recently extinct little people, such as the recently discovered "Hobbit" of the Philippine islands. This might account for faerie legends, but probably not for modern experiences with faeries.
There are conspicuous similarities between the two groups. A significant minority of ET's are LGM's (little green men). Green is a color favored by faeries. Both groups are secretive. They fly They appear and disappear without explanation. They are up to something, but we don't know what. Before the space age, people were abducted by faeries. Nowadays, people are abducted by aliens.
Maybe some faeries are extraterrestrials. Maybe extraterrestrials are faeries.
Being unbaptized, these poor souls are denied entry to heaven, but they aren't bad enough to go to Hell, so, like the fallen angels, they are stuck here on earth. This sounds like a pretty good deal to me, as I aspire to become a dead Pagan someday. It would be more fun than sitting on a cloud playing a harp all day.
This sounds to me like the same thing as a ghost, which is a dead person with unfinished business that keeps him from moving on to the next life. I believe in ghosts, too, but I think this is different from a faerie, although we may not know whether we have met a faerie or a ghost.
A thought form is a being which is made of psychic energy from its creator. It is sort of like an ethereal homunculus, or an artificial ghost. To better explain thought forms, let me give you an example from The Witch's Bible Compleat by Stewart and Janet Farrar:
Off the coast of Ireland are the Inishkea islands, where grey seals bear and raise their pups. In 1981, there was an illegal wholesale slaughter of seal pups. The public was outraged, and the Irish Wildlife Federation organized volunteer camps to guard the seals during pupping season in 1982 and 1983. The Farrars' coven wanted to make their contribution, so the sent their own volunteer: a thought form named "Mara" (Gaelic for "of the sea"). The priestess painted a picture of her: a grey-green ghostly sea-being with big eyes. At the full moon, the coven raised the necessary energy to manifest the thought form, and instructed her to appear to and frighten anyone who tried to harm the seals on Inishkea. The seal massacre was not repeated. How much the thought form Mara had to do with it can't be determined.
Later that same year, a couple ferrying supplies to the volunteers on the island during bad weather reported being saved from wrecking on the rocks by a mysterious woman who waved them away from the dangerous area. Their description of her matched the painting exactly. The witness said "She wore something like an ankle-length grey-green mackintosh. You couldn't see her face, but man!- could you see her eyes!". Others had seen her, at different times. She was seen walking amongst the seals, who were undisturbed by her. She came to be known simply as "the ghost", which of course she is not. She is a thought form, and she might be a faerie, but she is not a ghost.
Thought forms are created by many magical practitioners. Many more thought forms may be created by accident when a great deal of emotional energy is released: for example at a battleground or a popular sacred place. The people involved are no longer there, but pieces of their psychic energy remain. Perhaps these pieces of their spirits can combine to form a composite spiritual being that can be felt, and sometimes seen, by us if we are perceptive. When we sense their presence, we may perceive them as faeries.
When millions of people believe in, and meditate on an entity or a group of entities, perhaps their combined thoughts can become a thought form, which continues to exist as long as people remember them, or maybe longer, Perhaps the ancients created the faeries with their thoughts. This could be a case where the rule of Disney actually works: "Believing makes it so."
This is the theory I prefer, so pay attention. It will be on the test.
I can't prove it, but I believe every living thing has a spirit, or a soul. I don't know if every weed and bug has its own individual spirit, or if it's a collective life force, but there is more to them and to us than biology can explain. I think spirit is necessary for life. Some of these spirits are curious, some are reclusive. They may be helpful or mean. These nature spirits are the faeries I believe I encounter, especially in the woods. How do I know? I don't. I consider skepticism to be a virtue, and I try to guard against gratuitous self-deception.
Many people say they have seen faeries in the form of little people, but I never have. Sometimes one just sees a mysterious point of light. Such was the case one autumn night near the equinox, which is a good time to see faeries. Here and there in the meadow, I saw a pale glow. "Perhaps a faerie light" I thought. The light shown steadily though dimly as I gently brushed the grass aside. There on the ground was my faerie with its little lantern. It looked like an elongated sow bug with a luminescent butt. My gratuitous self-deception thoroughly dispelled, I consulted my field guide to insects, and I learned that this faerie was a firefly larva. They live on the ground and eat other insects. Nobody knows why the larvas glow. The adults are familiar to us all, and they emerge in summer. They fly around on warm summer nights, blinking to attract mates. They are different from faeries.
I told you that story so I could tell you another.
At Beltane, commonly called Mayday in the Christian and secular world, we were having our usual ritual in the woods. Beltane is exactly opposite Samhain (or Halloween) in the wheel of the year. Those are the two days when the veil between the physical and spirit worlds is thinnest. During the ritual, Sam asked me "are there fireflies out tonight?" I replied " No, it's too early in the year, and it's too cold tonight." "Then what are those lights?" she wanted to know. I saw only a few flashes, which I thought looked whiter than fireflies. Sam said there were zillions of them all around the circle. Some of us saw colored lights, some just white. Everybody I asked saw something. I am not very perceptive of psychic energy, which could explain why I didn't see as much as others saw. One person commented that the lights stayed outside the circle until the ritual was concluded, then they came inside. Curious behavior for fireflies, especially on a cool night in early May.
They returned a year later, or maybe it was two years, I don't remember. I do remember it was May 1. We weren't having a ritual that night, but we heard teenage trespassers raising a ruckus in our woods. Sam and I went to chase them away, and they disappeared to the neighbor's farm before we saw them. Alone in the woods, we saw the faerie lights again, up in the treetops.
They were seen at least one more time at our farm. This time it was close to Samhain, not Beltane. It was just before dawn on a frosty morning. Tim was settling into his deer hunting blind by our orchard when he saw the lights in the trees which he described exactly like what we had seen at Beltane. I'm willing to believe they were fireflies if you can show me freeze-proof fireflies that mate in early May and November. I also wonder why fireflies would show themselves specifically to people who are most attuned to the spirit world, and why specifically at Beltane and Samhain. I say it's because they are faeries.
That may be amusing, but what do faeries do besides blink at us? My experience suggests that they do a lot. They play tricks on us. They hide things from us; things like car keys or a bagpipe chanter. They help us find things. Sometimes they bonk us on the head.
Being spirit beings, rather than physical beings, it seems logical that their ability to affect the physical world is limited. Quantum physics theory tells us that all events are affected by observation. Physicists are still debating what this really means, but there is scientific evidence that we alter reality by observing it. It has not been determined if the observer has to be human. Perhaps the observer can be a nature spirit, a ghost, or a thought form. Quantum physics is a subject for a whole other lecture, so I'll spare you the brain-frying details at this time. I just want to suggest the scientific plausibility of spirit beings affecting material objects, at least at the atomic scale. Thus, a faerie or other spirit may not be able to physically manifest itself as a flesh and bones elf, gnome, or whatever, but one could perhaps affect the electronic activity in a person's brain or retina to appear as the spirit wishes to appear.
This is different from a hallucination originating in one's own brain. It is more like the faerie drawing a picture of itself, to be projected into your mind's eye. Likewise, a mischievous faerie may be able to make your car keys disappear, not by physically removing them, but by altering your perception.
Perhaps, spirits can move larger objects by judiciously tweaking a few atoms here and there, like the snowflake that triggers an avalanche, or a few errant electrons in an amplification circuit that causes a computer to go wacky.
Enough physics already. I want to tell some more stories before everyone falls asleep. Things happen that may be coincidence, or they may be faerie events: "faerendipity". My adventure with the owl, for example.
For another example, while preparing for sweat lodge rituals at Lumbar Achers (our farm in Hannibal), Gregory cut his hand while sawing a tree, and Don cut his foot while splitting firewood. Both attributed their injuries to their failure to show proper respect to the spirits before starting their task. Or it could be that they were just careless.
Several years earlier, I was just plain rude to the ash trees I was cutting for firewood. I usually make at least a gesture of thanks and respect to any tree I cut. Not this time. Not only did I fail to ask a blessing on the spirit of the trees, I insulted them by commenting that they were good for nothing but firewood. A large branch on the largest of these trees got hung up in the other trees, and would not fall. Loggers call this a widow maker. I left it to deal with later and proceeded to cut up the logs on the ground. When I woke up with my face in the forest floor, several feet from my chain saw, I realized I had made a mistake. The tree had fallen on my head, guided, I suspect, by the green man, or irate dryads, or some other faerie enforcer.
I seem to be getting along better with the trees now, remembering to faithfully show them respect. While respectfully harvesting timber this fall, I left my dear old tractor idling while I connected the chain to a log. Silly me, I should have known the brakes on a 50 year-old Ford 8N wouldn't hold. I watched helplessly as my beloved tractor rolled downhill into the woods. The right rear tire hit a large ash tree dead center, and the tractor stopped with only a dent in the fender. Had the ash tree not been there, my tractor would have ended in a ravine with more than cosmetic damage. Dumb luck? Maybe. Or maybe the Fey guided the tractor to a soft landing. Faerendipity?
This sort of seeming coincidence happens a lot, and there is usually a lesson. If we are good students, maybe the Faeries won't have to drop a tree on our head to get our attention.
Lastly, let me tell you about my neighbor when I lived on an farm in Belvidere, Illinois. I lived in an old farm house and paid my rent by helping the landlord with planting and other farm chores. We shared a lot of farm work with our neighbor farmer, whose name was Chuck. Chuck was a good neighbor to us. Chuck was good to his friends, and he had lots of friends, but he was no friend to nature. He was one of those farmers who delight in scorched earth. Trees only robbed water and sunlight from his crops. I was particularly appalled when I watched him tear out a beautiful fencerow of large trees. I think the faeries were appalled, too. I very seldom have premonitions, but when I first heard another neighbor talking about the accident that had just happened, I knew it was Chuck before anybody told me. He was under the grain head of his combine, greasing the fittings, when the head suddenly fell and squashed him dead. No explanation was ever found as to why the grain head lowered itself. It was assumed that the electronically controlled hydraulics malfunctioned, but I think it was the Fey, protecting their natural world. Was Chuck killed in a freak accident, or was he offed by a faerie vigilante?
These anecdotes are but a few of the many similar experiences I have had. Many people have told me of their own experiences, and their stories are often better than mine. Lots of folklore and fairy tales tell of faerie intervention in humans' lives for good or ill. I hypothesize that the forces in question are usually nature spirits; manifestations of the collective consciousness of all living things. I think I have seen them at Beltane when they chose to show themselves as blinking lights. I have seen their efforts to reward or punish those who show respect, or lack thereof, for their natural world. All of preceding anecdotes can be explained by coincidence, carelessness, or dumb luck. They can also be explained by faerie intervention. Do you believe in Faeries? I do. They have kicked my ass when I acted ignorant. They have saved my ass more than once. They have done me favors and taught me lessons. Chuck didn't believe in faeries, but they believed in him.
I know I have not proven anything today. If you didn't believe in faeries an hour ago, you probably still don't now. If you do believe in faeries, maybe you can believe with more conviction now. Either way, perhaps you will notice things you didn't think about before. I hope you will benefit from faerendipity in your life.
TO SOME I HAVE TALKED WITH BY THE FIRE
by: William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
WHILE I wrought out these fitful Danaan rhymes,
My heart would brim with dreams about the times
When we bent down above the fading coals
And talked of the dark folk who live in souls
Of passionate men, like bats in the dead trees;
And of the wayward twilight companies
Who sigh with mingled sorrow and content,
Because their blossoming dreams have never bent
Under the fruit of evil and of good:
And of the embattled flaming multitude
Who rise, wing above wing, flame above flame,
And, like a storm, cry the Ineffable Name,
And with the clashing of their sword-blades make
A rapturous music, till the morning break
And the white hush end all but the loud beat
Of their long wings, the flash of their white feet.
The Quincy Unitarian Church Home
The list of Selected Sermons.