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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Uniting Personal Gnosis and Folklore with Fairies

It's a perennial discussion that goes around online and in-person: how much should we rely on personal gnosis and how much should we look to recorded material and other people's experiences (i.e. folklore)? This is a particularly pertinent question when it comes to those who interact with fairies because of the diversity of understandings that exist in relation to them. There are those who argue in favour of relying solely on personal experiences and those who reject the idea of modern experiences entirely, and some who advocate different balances of the two. I used to think balance was the ideal approach myself, but as I've thought about it I've come to a different view.

Folklore is an essential groundwork for anyone, in my opinion, who wants to understand the Good People. Whatever culture we happen to be talking about looking at the accumulated material that has been collected to describe previous people's experiences with and beliefs around fairies is enormously helpful in building our own understanding. Such folklore represents a valuable corpus of belief going back countless generations that can be relied on to teach us how to safely interact with Otherworldly beings, what to expect in different circumstances, and show us various outcomes of previous encounters. In short, immersing in this folklore means we don't have to learn all the hard lessons (hopefully) all over again for ourselves because we can look back to other people's previous experiences to help guide us.

Personal gnosis and firsthand experience is also very valuable. Reading about a thing and studying a thing will never be exactly like participating in the thing which is why there's a vast difference between reading about sword fighting and actually sword fighting. Personal experience is also a vital aspect of the living tradition that people may underestimate - fairylore is not a fossilized, frozen thing that can only be found in books and hundred year old anecdotes but rather encounters with Themselves occur still and people's experiences today shape the folklore of tomorrow. 

If folklore is the knowing, then personal gnosis is the doing. Each is essential to the other in my opinion for those who walk this particular road because knowledge without action is wasted and action without knowledge (when its available) can be needlessly risky. Of course you can study the folklore and never bring spirituality and action into it, and that's fine; and you can actively have the spirituality without the basis of knowledge but you're likely going to make your efforts harder than they need to be. When the two are paired you get the best results, at least in my own experience. The folklore can help you with discernment of personal experiences, help filter out what is your own mind and your own fantasies, and can give you a baseline to measure your experiences from. 

In the end I think that the only way forward is not to look for balance between the two but to seek to use them together, to find harmony between them. There seems to be this idea now in some corners that personal gnosis is at worst antithetical to recorded lore and at best an uncomfortable companion, but I disagree. I think the two approaches are meant to work together like two horses harnessed to one cart, each keeping the other going in the same direction. Recorded lore and the bulk of other people's past experiences gives us a guideline and framework to understand our own experiences, and our own experiences in turn add to and continue the previous traditions. 

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Tagged in: fairies folklore UPG
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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