On the Fairy Road

An exploration of historic and modern Fairy beliefs, and more generally Irish-American and Celtic folk beliefs, from both an academic and experiential perspective.

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Thoughts and Samhain and the Otherworld

As Samhain approaches we see many references to the idea of a veil between worlds thinning; an idea that I have previously rejected. I know that many people embrace the concept either figuratively or literally but for myself I’ve always seen the intersection of this world and the Otherworld not as a veil but like a shoreline where earth and water meet. However after re-reading a post by Ireland’s Folklore and Traditions  https://irishfolklore.wordpress.com/2018/10/31/from-ancient-samhain-to-modern-halloween/ recently I’m reconsidering my own views to a degree.

My understanding of references to the veil, with the up front admission that it something I am looking at from the outside, is that people tend to approach it two ways. Either it’s seen as an actual barrier of some sort that separates the human world from the Otherworld, or it is a barrier in the minds of humans which obscures perception of the Otherworld and its denizens. While I can respect that other people find value in this concept it has never worked for me. I don’t see there being a barrier, per se, of any type separating the two realities rather I believe that they are something like oil and water where their very nature acts as a separator even though they are in many ways conjoined. In the same way the idea of the veil being personal to each human while closer to something I can understand doesn’t sit quite right with me, perhaps because it seems to involve too many diverse factors to creating a unified experience that would lend itself to everyone agreeing this veil is thinner at certain times. And again, I’ll repeat I do understand that this concept works well for many people and I am not trying to argue against it merely to explain my own thoughts around it.

Despite my disbelief in a veil between worlds I do acknowledge that there are certain times of year where the Otherworld seems more present in the human world and the beings of the Otherworld are more active and more likely to be encountered. I usually compare this to a kind of tide, working with my earlier analogy of the human world as earth and the Otherworld as sea, where there are certain times that the ocean is further on land than others, or put another way there are times that occur in a predictable cycle where the energy of the Otherworld is much more present. Bealtaine is one such time and Samhain another, with smaller surges – lesser high tides if you will – that also occur. This idea is somewhat supported in folklore where we see a strong influence on those two dates as ones where the Fair Folk are much more present and active than otherwise.

The piece in Ireland’s Folklore and Traditions from 2018 covers all of the references to Samhain across mythology and into more modern folklore. What got my attention was the way that the article mentions the feth fiadha, a magical cloak or fog* that conceals the aes sidhe from human sight, and the way that this magic fails or is lost around Samhain. I don’t think this concept is connected to or is the basis of the idea of the veil between worlds but looking across the breadth of references to the feth fiadha did get me thinking of how the two concepts may inter-relate and particularly how my understanding of exactly what is happening needed to be revised.  

Previously I had seen the shifting tides of energy as something of a natural phenomena and perhaps it is but thinking of the feth fiadha I am also remembering that it is in part a learned skill, a power of the Othercrowd. In mythology we learn that Manannán taught this skill to the Tuatha De Danann when they were driven into the sidhe by the invading Milesians. So this power that separates the two worlds is something that the Gentry control and can raise or lower by their will, particularly on an individual basis; however we also see an emphasis on this feth fiadha falling or being taken down more universally at Samhain. Why we don’t know. If it is a natural phenomenon then perhaps its weakening or falling at certain times of year is guided by whatever source powers it. Perhaps it simply works on its own cycle, like an earthly ocean’s tide. It is something that I am thinking a lot about now as I try to work out the connection between this skill of the Good People, the tides of the year, and the effect on humans especially those sensitive to energy. Maybe the reason the aes sidhe can control this mist or cloak that hides them from human perception is because they understand it and its nature, and that knowledge allows them to manipulate it.

Do I believe in the veil between worlds? Still a no. I do believe in the tides that shift the energy between the worlds. And I believe in the feth fiadha as a power that the Gentry have and also maybe a power they must follow the rules of. Perhaps in contemplating all of this I am starting to have a better understanding of these tides themselves.

 

*the words can be translated either way so that the meaning is unclear and in stories it is sometimes described as a cloak and other times as a fog or mist. Perhaps it is both.

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Morgan has been a practicing witch since the early 90's with a focus on the Fairy Faith and fairylore. She has written over two dozen non-fiction and fiction books on topics related to Irish mythology, witchcraft, fairy folklore, and related subjects. Morgan has also taught workshops on these same topics across the United States and internationally. In her spare time she likes to study the Irish language in both its modern and historic forms.

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