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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Owning Our Biases

We all have biases, its part of human nature, but many people don't acknowledge their biases, and may not even be aware of them. Its important in both spirituality and life to try to root out where our biases are and see how they are effecting, for good or bad, our interaction with things around us. This is something that I have been thinking a lot about today as I see the effects of bias within various fairy-interest communities. 

We relate to the world through a series of mental schema which act as shortcuts for our minds to assess situations and organize information. These schema are essential to the way the human mind works because they provide frameworks for us to relate to the world around us quickly and efficiently. However this mental process lends itself to the formation of biases, or ingrained beliefs and ideas about people and things. Biases are slightly different from schema but are part of the same wider mental process that looks for shortcuts to processing and understanding information. Biases are usually learned or taught and can be positive or negative, for example a person may have a positive bias towards teachers or a negative bias towards people who are unemployed. 

We all have biases but its important to understand and acknowledge them because they influence how we react to things and how we approach subjects including spirituality. When we aren't aware of or biases we will tend to act on them without understanding that our actions don't reflect actual thought on a subject but reflex. For example when people defend a political point or policy, such as on immigration, not because they understand or agree with the actual policy but because they have a bias for or against immigrants. In a spiritual context this can be hugely important because unexamined biases will cause us to tend to accept beliefs and thoughts we already are biased towards without any reflection on them and to reject beliefs and thoughts we are biased against in the same way; in both cases we need to actually stop and think through the subject rather than simply respond. 

How does bias effect fairy beliefs? Many people in the US and sometimes elsewhere come into fairy belief as teens or young adults with no previous grounding in the Fairy Faith, and they may come to such belief not through traditional folk belief but through mass media or popculture. This means that their existing biases can strongly influence how they come to understand and relate to fairy folklore and carry that forward into their spiritual practices. A person biased to see the fair folk as potentially dangerous will move forward with caution, while someone biased to see them as entirely benevolent will move forward freely and without concern for being harmed. In the same way someone with biases that shape their world view towards anthropocentricism will show that bias in their interactions with non-human spirits while someone with a more animistic view will see humans as part of a larger system. People biased to believe in a paradisiacal afterlife may be prone to seeing Fairy as that paradise in their new system, whereas people without that inherent belief will not. In the same way people biased to see fairies as only helpful nature spirits will reinforce that idea by only experiencing those beings and rejecting any negative or frightening experience as not being a fairy, which shows us how bias can not only shape a belief but create a sort of echo chamber for it. 

I am not judging the array of belief to be found out there but I am encouraging people to be aware that their belief may not be universal precisely because its coming from a very specific bias. By taking the time to understand our own biases we can, I think, gain a better understanding of the world itself and avoid falling into the idea that our thoughts and approach are either universal or necessarily correct. 

 

 

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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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