Irish-American Witchcraft: The Good and the Bad of Fairy Work

Irish-American Witchcraft: The Good and the Bad of Fairy Work August 18, 2018

Paganism and witchcraft, like most subcultures, tends to go through trends – periods where different things become popular for a period of time. I’ve seen this repeatedly over the years, rather like the tide, things become a prime topic of interest than fade a bit as something else comes into focus. There’s nothing wrong with this pattern of course it’s a natural flow. Right now it seems like fairies are a hot topic de jour, as they have been a few times before, and I’m seeing an uptick in fairy-themed books and conversations. As someone whose main practice has centered on fairy work – that is the active practice of trucking with fairies – for most of my life this naturally gets my attention.

When we see fairies being discussed in paganism there’s a very – very – wide range of ways those beings are interpreted. So wide that one end of the spectrum is basically unrecognizable to the other end, but that is perhaps a different discussion. My own view tends to be based in two things: personal experiences and traditional folklore. Based on my own perspective I think these beings can sometimes be helpful but also sometimes dangerous, and are often mercurial. This means that when I talk about being a person who works with fairies its coming from a place of respect as well as caution.

“Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing” by William Blake. From WikiMedia.

My particular flavor of witchcraft is mainly focused on the Good People and over the years I’ve had a wide range of different experiences with them. These experiences include both good things and bad things, and more neutral experiences of course as well. I find I often tend to share the bad things more often to offer a counter to the avalanche of only positive things that seem to have flooded the internet, specifically attached to the viewpoint of fairies as earth angels or nature-spirit-guides. After giving it a lot of consideration I decided it might be a good idea to share a balanced view here that included anecdotes of both the benefits and occasional pitfalls of this work.

The Good of Fairy Work

There are many good things that come from connecting to and working with (in any sense) these beings. These good things can take a variety of forms and may be things that impact a person in deeply private ways or that are expressed in ways that other people also perceive. They may also include minor things that are nonetheless valuable ot major things that are vital. There is an old and longstanding taboo against bragging too much about fairy blessings in your life and so one must always be cautious about what and how much they talk about, but generally speaking anything that other people were also involved in or aware of is safe to share. Why this prohibition? I have a couple ideas but I suspect the main reason is simply that it keeps us from taking these blessings for granted. So that said here are three good things that being connected to the fairies has meant for my life:

They’ve guided me when I was physically lost – kind of the opposite of being pixy-led, there have been a few times when I’ve lost my way in an unfamiliar place and the Good People have helped me find where I needed to be again. In one case driving in a car with two other people late at night in a strange city we took a wrong turn and ended up very lost (back before GPS); I started seeing a form in front of us and instructed the driver where to turn to follow it. We ended up back where we needed to be within about 5 minutes. Another time, when I was in Ireland, I wandered off from the group I was with and got turned around in a field. I couldn’t see anyone else from the group, it was starting to get dark, and I had no idea where I was. I made an offering and was guided back to the main pathway and a friendly (human) face.

“The Mystic Wood” by John William Waterhouse. From WikiMedia.

They saved my life – several years ago I had a severe anaphylactic reaction. It was late at night and even though I knew what was happening I was frightened enough that I was in denial and decided if I just went to sleep everything would be alright. Lying there with my tongue swelling and having trouble breathing, my husband was suddenly and somewhat violently awakened by what he described later as a ‘large moth’* flying into his face, causing him to get up and turn the lights on. There was no moth to be found anywhere but at that point I broke down and asked him to call an ambulance.

They saved my house from a fire – I was sitting in my living room and kept seeing movement near the outlet by our television. I initially dismissed it, acknowledging that it was fairy activity (which I can see) but not concerned. I was getting ready to leave to run an errand but kept getting distracted by this movement and finally when I thought I saw a small figure walking in that area I walked over to see what was going on. As I got within a few feet of the wall the cord plugged into the top outlet sparked and then started burning; because I was so close I quickly pulled it out before the wall caught fire.

The Bad of Fairy Work

Along with the good things that have come from working with the Fair Folk there have been bad things, although I will admit the bad is often (not always) my own fault. Generally when a negative thing occurs it is a result of me transgressing an etiquette rule, pushing a taboo, or ignoring directives which are part of my spiritual work. Occasionally however negative things are simply a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, which is a risk of doing this kind of work. I also want to be clear that when I say ‘bad’ I mean bad consequences that result directly from some aspect of this work, rather than difficult things like those aforementioned prohibitions which are certainly also a factor but which I wouldn’t categorize as bad per se.

As with the previous examples I’m going to offer three, and you’ll notice several of them are medical; in those cases yes I sought professional medical help and no the situation couldn’t really be explained by doctors. These may sound a bit extreme but these did all really happen and I’m sharing them in part to illustrate what I mean by bad.

“The Nightmare” by Henry Fuseli. From WikiMedia.

They interfered with my eyesight – just prior to my last trip to Ireland I was working to get a manuscript finished before I left. In the two weeks prior to the trip I started having dreams and otherwise receiving messages that I should stop working on the project and start focusing on the Gentry and on getting ready for some intense spiritual work that would be going on. However being stubborn I didn’t want to listen so I kept pushing, knowing I could get the book done before I left. After a few days of this I developed a strange eye infection that caused blurred vision – meaning I couldn’t type or be on the computer very much because I couldn’t see – and which the doctors and opthamologist couldn’t explain. They diagnosed it as a bacterial infection of ‘unknown origin’ and gave me some ointment to put in my eyes. Once I stopped trying to get any work done and started focusing on the spiritual things my vision cleared up.

They drained my car battery – I have a specific personal prohibitions relating to my spiritual work. One of these has some layers to it, and I was skirting around part of it to visit a cemetery with my children. I had a bad feeling about the whole thing and suspected that I was edging into doing something I shouldn’t. When I went to park my car I had a very strong sense not to turn the car off or get out myself but I did anyway. Walking back up to the car afterwards I knew it wouldn’t start, and it didn’t. So I was stuck with three very upset children in a cemetery in the woods, with an hour wait for roadside assistance. Despite trying multiple times to start the car it was clear the battery was dead. It was very hot, the children were upset and thirsty, and the situation was a lot more unstable than I can easily put into words here. Finally I had a talk with my Otherworldly friends and basically said if they would let the car start I wouldn’t make the same mistake again (and I’d drive directly to get a new battery for the car). The car then started.

I’ll probably never hear the end of this incident from my kids.

I was sick for about 6 months – this one may have been kind of inevitable as an after effect of an initiatory experience I went through involving the Good Neighbours in Ireland, but afterwards I was inexplicably very sick for about six months. I went to the local walk-in clinic and saw my primary care several times and was told it was everything from lingering viral bronchitis to possible repetitive walking pneumonia, but nothing helped it and no one could explain why I wasn’t getting better. I was just sick and stayed sick from Samhain until Bealtaine. This was, at the least, a very difficult experience to go through connected to this spiritual work.

Fairy Work and Options

Not everyone who decides to connect with the Good Folk will end up with this level of engagement, which is fine. Like any other type of witchcraft or spirit work there’s a range of interaction that occurs and for some people this will mean minimal but safer encounters while for others the work will be deeper and more dangerous. At least speaking for the kind of Otherworldly beings I deal with danger and blessing are two sides of one coin and the more dedicated you are to fairy work the more you are open to both. It’s good to keep this in mind if you are considering this path in any serious way. There will be positive things that come your way but there will also be equivalent levels of risk and potential negative experiences. If this is a path that interests you, you should go into it prepared for both the good and the bad.

*I have a strong personal connection between moths and the Gentry; interestingly Grimm in Teutonic Mythology also connects moths and butterflies to elves.

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