Birth                                                           CHILDHOOD                                                Coming of Age
Home

I emigrated to America from Ireland as a young woman. Over time, I became less Irish. And yet it was clear, I would never be fully American. 

This “betweenness” often felt like a “pull.” Heaven knows there are enough songs about lonely immigrants pining for home. That wasn’t my story though. The pull wasn’t a matter of being “here” or “there.” I loved America. The pull was around identity? Who, or what, am I and where do I belong? As a result, I started looking to Irish stories and mythology - and of course music - for perspective and came upon the lovely idea of “betweenness.”

The older Irish community loved things found in a state of betweenness, especially elements of nature. They loved mist because it was neither water nor air. They loved the seashore - neither land nor sea. 

They loved liminal places, caves, openings, borders of the natural world because, in that betweenness, there was a magic of sorts. Aside from the elements, the times of day had their between times, dawn and dusk, and these were magic, too.

So, I started to see the pull in a different light. I stopped feeling suspended and starting seeing that sense of being neither one nor the other as a blessing. To have the opportunity to straddle two worlds, to live between two cultures, had its challenges but ultimately was a gift. Irish stories are full of “betweenness,” full of "otherworlds" and they cherish the idea that an otherworld is close by, such as “Tá Tir na N´Og ar fun an tí” (The land of Eternal Youth is out the back of the House”). The idea that the otherworld is close by and proximate to the everyday is a consistent theme. How lovely is that? 

While, everyone wants to have a sense of feeling or belonging, a body doesn’t have to leave its home to feel left out or suspended. However, it’s lovely to think of shifting and moving as an opportunity for the magical, the gift of perspective and the knowledge that home really is where the heart is. 

For many Irish immigrants, like myself, childhood is full of stories about "home" ... about "there and here" and "then and now."  Within the Celtic imagination itself, there is something that draws us to story. It is little wonder, then, that myth and fairy lore play such an important part in our national storybook.

For most of us, the love of stories and tales begins in childhood and if you’ve ever spent time at an Irish gathering, it becomes clear that connection through story and recounting is central to the Irish social experience. 

Below, are stories about life ... from childhood and thereafter ... in Ireland and elsewhere ... each one, in its own way, and as a way, to share my own love of these signposts on the road that our ancestors have so lovingly gifted to us. These stories span generations and carry with them a wisdom and kindness that is rare in a world that can feel harsh to some, at times. We are no less in need of comfort as life and time passes and so, for me, the recounting of stories revives the child-like wonder and rekindles the imagination in all of us. 

May they ignite in you the sparks of an imaginative and story-loving people.



Wonderland

The "Wonderland" that Alice (in Greek, the name means “Truth") fell into is arguably the best known and loved "otherworld" of recent times. Before Walt Disney brought us cartoons with animals who could speak, Lewis Carroll (real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) sparked the imaginations of adults and children alike with the adventures of a little girl. 

"Alice in Wonderland" had all the classic elements of a fairy tale combined with Carroll's gift of storytelling. 

Interestingly, he was educated by his father, a vicar (and later Archdeacon of Richmond, England) and a man of math and science until the age of twelve. I always find the intersection of religion and fairy lore intriguing.  Carroll (Dodgson) himself went on to study math at Oxford University and become a Deacon himself. He was thought to be a sincere Christian, albeit with the attendant doubts.  Aside from Shakespeare and the Bible, he is one of the most quoted authors in history.

Carroll is believed to have suffered from migraines (certainly he was sickly through his life) and the Alice illustrations and their abnormal or unusual size do indeed reflect the classic "migraine visions" experienced by some migraine sufferers. Visual distortions during certain types of migraines can make objects appear large, elongated and completely out of contextual size.  Some of the most popular artwork from “Alice” can be seen to the right. 

It’s often thought that Carroll, an exact sort of man, was perhaps on drugs or "high" when he wrote the book. Many feel the illustrations are more reflective of someone who was "tripping" rather than a man with migraine headaches. While many heavy drugs were available over the counter and common at that time, it’s thought to be unlikely that such a masterpiece - full of puns and logic requiring astute attention to detail - is the product of drug hallucinations. I believe the explanation of the migraine aura, and the way he “saw” things when the aura occurred, are much more likely. 

Carroll worked with an illustrator (Sir John Tensile. 1820 – 1914) and had a clear vision of what he wanted. Through trial and tribulation, the illustrator saw it through to the end. In retrospect, it’s wonderful that he did. 

Despite being a serious man of math and science, among other creative pursuits, particularly photography, Carroll's illustrations and "flights of fancy," as he called these tales, have outlived all of his "serious" work.





Celtic Fairy Lore & Mythology
Introduction to The Twilight Realm
by Thane Tierney 

In these days of zeroes and ones, where every decision seems to be reduced to a binary option, the need for myth and the metaphysical is perhaps even more compelling. Advanced as we believe ourselves to be, situations arise that neither fact nor faith seem to explain to our satisfaction; it's little wonder we sometimes tap into a deeper pool of our prehistory.

Musicians from Paganini and Mozart to Robert Johnson and Jimi Hendrix have been characterized as having gifts that seem to come from someplace beyond. Some say they were touched by the hand of God, others believe they made a deal with the Devil, but there is a third option, one which musicians of many backgrounds have cited: they were playing the music of the otherworld.

Artists in all media, verbal, visual or sonic, have a singular connection with the world around them. Scientists would have us believe that it's a right-brain function, and there's physical evidence that the corpus callosum, the bridge between our cerebral hemispheres, is actually larger in musicians than in others. While that sort of factoid seems to approach an explanation as to why musicians are often able to imbue their craft with emotion, it falls short of telling us about their wellspring of inspiration.

No matter their other qualities, artists are dreamers. In poet Jonathan Galassi's words, they "expand our notion of the true." And musicians, in the course of their waking dreams, whether envisioning new music or playing improvisationally, sometimes find themselves transported to a place they might call "the zone" or just "out." In Ireland, someone similarly conveyed would be said to be "gone [or off] with the faeries," a phrase that persists to this day.

The faeries to whom the Irish refer are by no means the beautiful, butterfly-winged and benign Disney-sanitized sprites of our youth. They possess a far more capricious nature and the capacity for both great benevolence and great mischief, much like the Trickster in Native American culture. [Those who have read J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan might recall that Tinker Bell at one point, in a fit of jealousy, tried to have Wendy Darling murdered. Very faerie-like behaviour.]

Faeries were the gatekeepers to the otherworld and were widely known to have an innate aptitude for music making, hence their strong affinity for human musicians. Their compositions were said to be extraordinarily compelling and of a higher standard than those of mere mortals. Some who received a musical gift from the otherworld were extraordinarily protective of it, refusing to play the tunes they learned in public or even mention their source, lest the impulsive otherworld guardians take offense and inflict havoc. Others were more forthcoming, and freely shared the wealth that had been bestowed upon them. In fact, two of the great 20th century fiddlers from County Donegal, Mickey Doherty and Neilly Boyle, routinely and unabashedly credited "the wee folk" for their contributions. 

Musicians who visited the otherworld did so, at least to some degree, at their peril. The mythology is rife with stories of those who (much like Kurt Vonnegut's character Billy Pilgrim) got unstuck in time. They were sometimes said to have emerged years later, despite having spent (in a subjective sense) only a few minutes in the company of faeries. While brief visits to the otherworld were acceptable in bygone Irish rural culture, extended forays had serious consequences; "tarrying with the faeries" meant that crops mightn't be planted or harvested on time and other routine obligations might be neglected. So, while the community might be willing to overlook a brief out-of-time interlude, there was always the caveat that the otherworld was to be kept at arm's length, lest one be overwhelmed by its charms. 

Not only did music come from the otherworld, but a substantial body of work was written about it. In a tradition that prefigured the magic realism of writers such as Castaneda, Borges and Allende, supernatural lore was common among the Celtic poets and musicians. They inhabited a world where encounters with selkies [sea creatures, most often female, who assume human form by shedding their skin], dryads and other mythic beings, while magical, were not uncommon. These themes are widely distributed through pre-industrial societies all over the world. [In fact, the universal nature of shape-shifter legend is explored in an excellent article by Patrick Harpur in the February 2002 issue of Fortean Times.

Twilight loomed large in otherworld mythology, as that was the time the faeries came out to play, and it acted as a metaphor for the nexus between this world and the otherworld. In a much broader literary sense, it also represents that nether region between light and dark, sacred and sensual, a time of ambiguity and curious phenomena (such as the so-called green flash, often reported by sailors just as the sun dipped below the horizon). Under the unfolding blanket of darkness, inhibitions were shed and mischief ensued. 

In the words of the Italian surrealist playwright Luigi Pirandello, "Whatever is a reality today, whatever you touch and believe in and that seems real for you today, is going to be - like the reality of yesterday - an illusion tomorrow." The otherworld has existed, and persists in its influence, in the hearts and minds -and fingers- of artists since the dawn of our earliest imaginings. So let's not run aground on belief's rocky shores, let's not draw a hard line between the physical and the metaphysical on our journey. Just relax your mind, let the cares of this world fall away like autumn leaves. Enter the twilight realm and allow the music to transport you.

Thane Tierney
 


Solstice & the Celtic Otherworld

While the Solstices were not as important to the ancient Irish as the major fire festivals, mainly Lughnasadh (August 1), Beltane (May Day, May 1), Imbolc (February 1) and Samhain (Halloween), they were none the less celebrated.

The solstice, much like the fire festivals, was considered a time when the veil between the worlds was thin and lines along which the world of the natural and supernatural might merge.  Fairylore is full of creatures that come to life on mid-Summers Eve, and many films, poems and other writings reflect these ideas beautifully.  While these themes have been relegated to the world of children, it's hard not to get excited on mid-Summer's Eve, read a few lines from the bard, and go back to a time when the lines of the imagination drew in and out of these realities with great ease. 

My strongest mid-Summer association is often with the bard himself.   Mind you, the bard seems to have drawn a little inspiration from the otherworld in his "Midsummer Night's Dream." 

And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turn them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation, and a name

ACT V, Scene 1, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
William Shakespeare

Above all, it enables us to align with the world we live in and for many of us the easiest entrance into that particular castle is through nature itself.  Is it any wonder we feel a certain alignment at mid-Summer.  The old Irish would have said it was 'our' time.  The time of the people.  The time to do the business of living.  Planting, sewing, reaping, marrying - and for a brief time at  mid-Summer wondering what else is out there and what there might be to align with.   For this reason, it was known as the 'light half' of the year.

My childhood was full of fairy forts.  There's hardly a townland in Ireland without a fort, fairy ring, holy well or some 'place.'  Magical places were always thresholds, where rivers met or townlands bounded each other.  Magical times were when time met, dawn and dusk.  Of couse, no one had to explain this to us back then, we ruled those worlds and happily travelled in and out of them after school each day. I vividly remember the sense that time was suspended. Traipsing over thistles and mud, much of the world felt mysterious. 

Fairy forts were often left untended and there are farmers in Ireland to this day who will not build on a Fort. It’s considered unlucky. Of course they were magic!  Such a fuss! In case you think I’m joking, let me clear and say I know of at least one such person. And when he was young he would have laughed at the idea himself! Everyone seemed to know where they were. Today I would be hard pressed to find many of them.

It’s interesting all these years later is to piece together the thinking behind of some of the old ideas, such as leaving the otherworld to its own devices. As the saying goes “leave well-enough, alone.”  

To study fairy lore within the folkloric tradition is to study human nature. 

Over time, we've come to view these otherworldly creatures as reflections of our own psyche, a means of taking parts of ourselves, thinking of them symbolically and creating stories around them, in order that we might better understand who we are and what it means to be human.

The characters in fairy stories often represent an aspect of ourselves or our aspirations. The stories themselves are not teaching stories and there is rarely a moral to a fairy story. In fact, depending on ones personality, chances are these stories may just reinforce what we already felt or sensed. What they do serve, and beautifully is to  “reflect” our nature and in so doing give us a mechanism for symbolic thinking, a means of coming to terms of what it is to travel through the world and be human; a new way of “seeing” things from a sometimes exaggerated perspective and so giving us a more detached view of what it is to be human and the parts that we are contending with at any given time in our lives. In the same way as a comedian (jester archetype) will guide us to a place where we can laugh at ourselves by exaggerating our humanness and reflecting it to us as folly, fairy lore works similarly and serves a similar function.

Interestingly, it can and did interweave beautifully with Christianity. I look on the vilification of magic - a child’s sense of wonder and their innocence in suspending belief - as a loss, of sorts.

There are many voids in the initial experiences, shocks and traumas that humans experience that are not easily filled by theology. Fairy lore can be a beautiful mechanism to switch to symbolic thinking while people come to terms with their life experiences. This does not necessarily take from the religious or spiritual aspect, it appears more to fill the void between shock and awareness. It also serves to balance those juxtaposed opposites of life and spirit, the natural or real and supernatural. 

So, here's a simple fairy story, the first one I learned, and the root story of one of the first songs I learned 'De Luain, De Mairt' in celebration of the Summer, the Solstice and the Celtic Imagination.

The Twilight Realm

Áine Minogue

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"Exquisite Celtic music." SONGWRITER'S MONTHLY

Enter into a world where day and night collide. Where the woods tend to come alive; as the mysteries of the underworld unfold, shadows of the dark will be no more.

The Twilight Realm radiates its own special blend of mystical magic. Through Áine Minogue's skill as a harpist and beautiful lyrical voice this collection of twelve audio traces is a spiritual oasis of peace and tranquility." MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW

For extensive information on the Celtic Otherworld and the Celtic world of fairy, please visit our sister site, CelticFairyMusic.com and the articles there.

ALBUM CREDITS Tim Archibald: Bass Seamus Egan: Whistle Tom Hill: Clarinet & Clarinet arrangements Winifred Horan: Fiddle Takaaki Masuko: percussion Áine Minogue: Irish harp, vocals, percussion Birdcalls on “Enchanted Valley” appears courtesy of Shanachie Entertainment Group

Studio: AdelMark Studios, Lincoln, MA Mixed by Mark Wessel at AdelMark Studios, Lincoln, MA Engineer for harp, fiddle and whistle tracks: Seamus Egan All other tracking: Mark Wessel (photo: © James Higgins) Liner Notes: Thane Tierney Pre Production: Brian P. Meyers & Aine Minogue Produced by Aine Minogue Graphic Design: Greg Gonzales, Creative Vision Design Company All tracks Traditional, Arranged by Aine Minogue and published by Little Miller Music Company (BMI)

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ARTICLE - FAIRIES, CHILDHOOD

A SIMPLE FAIRY STORY

Once upon a time there were two brothers who lived on the edge of the woods.  Both were born with a hideous humps on their back.

One day, one of the brothers set out to walk into the village.  While passing the fairy fort he heard music.  The fairies came out and invited him in.  They played for him the most magical and beautiful music he had ever heard, they fed him delicious food, played games with him and if that wasn’t enough, they even took the lump from his back.  

Delighted, he returned home  to tell his brother of his great adventure and good luck.

The next day, his brother set out and heard music while passing the fairy fort.  The fairies invited him in.  He was ecstatic thinking he would have a similar experience to his brother and he waited joyfully in anticipation of magical music, delicious food. To think he too might no longer have a lump on his back.

So, he was horrified when the fairies were cruel to him, whipped him. Not only did they not take away his lump - the gave him the lump from his brother's back.   

The poor man went home beaten, disappointed and carrying two humps on his back!

So, is there a moral to this story?  I would say - no.  Nor do we find a moral in most fairy stories.  An interesting thing about fairylore is that it's likely to interweave nicely with whatever it is you believe in the first place.  The one thing it clearly does is reflect life.  One day you walk down the street and have a great day. The next, who knows?   

Is there harm in needing time or mechanism outside of ourselves to help us accept life. Why is it that a man can leave his home one morning and stumble upon a miracle; and on another day, his brother following a similar path returns at evening with twice as many troubles as he left with that morning?  

For whatever reason, you walk down the next day and all hell breaks loose! These types of stories don’t explain the “why.” They simply make it clear that “life happens” and while we wait for understanding, acceptance and the bigger hand to comfort, these reflections of humanity can serve a wise and lovely purpose for our common frailties as human beings. 
 

CHILD CARE AND FAIRY LORE

As you might expect, a great deal of fairy lore revolves around children. What’s surprising is the social utilizing of fairy lore around child care and safety. A simple folkloric strain around fairy lore was that if you didn’t value your children, there was something out there that would happily take over the job for you. This might sound strange to us in a modern world but in a pre-internet, pre-psychology and media-free world, how was a mother (and many entered motherhood at a very young age) to be cajoled and prove capable of care in societies where infant mortality rates were high and family sizes were generally large?

I never cease to be amazed by the wisdom and simplicity of some of these tales and traditions. The superstition ran that fairies loved beautiful little children and that if they were not watched, or if the house was not keep free of clutter and essentially clean, the fairies might well be drawn in to “take” the child. It would be a mistake to view our ancestors as fools. However, the overriding sense that children were precious and to be minded is the main theme here. 

Since mothers tend toward worry over their young children, the world of fairy didn’t just offer a projection for those worries; guarding against the fairies gave a mother a series of tasks to prevent any harm coming to her child. They were imminently practical measures around watchfulness and maintenance.  

To look at the nature of fairies is to look at a wide spectrum of human nature but overall their quality was childlike, but children have an amoral quality and this is what made the world of fairy a precarious proposition and a place that could be visited but should never become a habit or habitation for the average mortal… 


CHILD LOSS, CHANGELINGS AND FAIRY LORE

So where did this idea of the fairies taking children come from? Like so much of fairy lore, it sounds like superstition and perhaps even ignorance. But any time you scratch a folkloric tradition or strain of thinking, there’s probably something interesting there…

The myth of the Changeling did serve a societal purpose. The stories of a changeling revolve around the idea of a mother’s child being “taken” by the fairies and a sickly fairy child being left in his/her place. The exchanged “fairy” child would generally get sicker and sicker and die. It’s little wonder that we look at these stories, shake our heads and walk away in confusion. Why would any culture hold in its annals such a themes only to have it re-appear in story after story. 

It’s well to remember that in the Middle Ages, fairy stories were prevalent and this continued for centuries… 

As mentioned, we’re referring to societies with high infant mortality rates and child sicknesses. Women often reared large families. 

For a mother, the idea that her child was “taken” and not “gone” was the central emotional tool that the idea of a changeling offered. Since the fairies would have loved the child they had “taken,” it was likely they would remain forever childlike and in a land of enchantment. The child that had gotten sick and died, on some level, was not the child the mother had given birth to, and therefore the ability for child care and some detachment to provide emotional relief to the mother, albeit in the form of nothing more than a superstition, was often pivotal to recovery from the unthinking - the sickness and death of a child… 

I would never wish to give the impression that our Irish ancestors were walking around with this as a core belief system. I’m thinking of those times in life that are often unspoken, when something simple feels like a word of comfort from the departed, hearing a significant song at the right moment, seeing a symbol, a bird… These comforts do not reside in that part of the psyche that encompasses the everyday, but it does offer comfort to that part of us that needs to go on…

The country was deeply Christian for much of its history and a concurrent devotion to the Mother (Mary) and saints, such as St. Brigid (with her attendant earthy folkloric aspects) would have been likely. In fact the devotion to both these women was deepened by their personal narratives of child loss, care and the other relatable aspects of their own experience. While a woman was likely to attend Church by day and pray for her child, it was in the middle of the night, when the depths of loss surfaced and during those inconsolable moments that a woman might draw on the emotional, albeit irrational comfort of her child being elsewhere and happy, with a chance of return, as opposed to the idea that the child was gone forever. And even though belief in an afterlife was ingrained in Irish culture, for a grieving mother, when logic has flown out the window and the heart is sore, this cultural oddity, “the changeling” could provide comfort to some part of a psyche and heart that could find no comfort in either logic, religion or loved ones. As Yeats said, there are some things that are too big “for even the biggest heart to hold.” 


“AWAY WITH THE FAIRIES”
What Are they talking about?

Another one! As the sombrero is to Mexico, so goes the Irish -  “away with the fairies.“  For the Irish, it can feel like a caricature. But! Yes, I’ve said it before, beneath the surface superstition, the concept of being “away with the fairies” when brought into the light of day illustrates the use of fairy lore as a social tool for reincorporation the disenfranchised or absent back to society, with their dignity intact. What do I mean by that? Well, the best example might be around a bout of depression or other passages that a body might want to leave behind. It’s worth considering how small communities and villages dealt with mental illness or even intermittent depression, in a country that’s not known for its sunlight… If a community member had a ‘bout,” it was easier to put behind them with a general consensus that they had been “away with the fairies.” This social agreement of sorts served to give permission to its most vulnerable to re-enter the daily functioning and communal pursuits of the locality. It negated the necessity for explanation or probing while allowing people to resume social interaction without question or comment. It was a way to “save face.” Any explanation is better than none. And explanations for odd behavior, mental illness and depression weren’t available to people. In truth, mental illness seem to change over time and we still find much of that area, inexplicable and difficult to understand. It’s little wonder that an explanation through the use of fairy lore surfaced…  

 

Here again, the changeling idea is often unearthed. The idea that an adult could be “taken” and therefore not “be themselves” was not that unusual and to some degree continues on a subconscious level. (“I wasn’t myself” of “he wasn’t himself” is a phrase I’ve often heard during my lifetime) And when I think about it, it seems like issues of depression and other mental health diseases (they seem to change over time), can feel to the sufferer as though they are being “taken over” by something over which they have no control. In any event, this mechanism of permission to return to everyday life after difficulty has that sound kindness and wisdom that I’ve come to associate with Irish folkloric tradition. 


MYTH, FAIRYLORE AND CARL JUNG

So now that we’ve taken a look at how fairy lore and fairy tales were utilized in society (Middle Ages stories were mostly fairy stories! And it continued for centuries especially in Western Europe) what is it that fairy lore represents? Where does it come from? Similarly mythology would seem to fulfill a similar function in connecting us to the various aspects of human nature. By creating stories around archetypal characters, we see in them extreme versions of our own human quality traits and are thus enabled to detach from clinging to our own small story and to see the world in broader terms, as well as our role in the bigger picture. 

Carl Jung often drew upon these so-called archetypal characters of fairy lore and myth as a way of reflecting the psyche. Mythologist Joseph Campbell carried on this work and saw myth as the reflection itself of the human psyche. Combined with symbology and ritual, he regarded the old stories as a key to understanding ourselves and the collective experience of what it means to be human. 

“Presence is holding love without twisting it to your desire” Marion Woodman

A list of Jungians including Clarissa Pinkola Estés and Marion Woodman followed suit in drawing deeply from the well of fairy tales as a means of exploring and understand even more aspects of the human psyche. 

Did the Irish see it this way? It’s hard to know. In the same way that attendees of Star Wars movies love the stories, are They thinking about the archtypal characters and the story as a reflection of the collective human experience? 


FAIRY TALES, MYTH AND STORYTELLING IN HOLLYWOOD 

It’s interesting to note that George Lucas drew on much of Joseph Campbell’s studies of the “hero” archetype for his Star Wars movies and openly credits Campbell at every opportunity. “The Power of Myth,” a series of interviews of Campbell by Bill Moyers - and one of PBS most popular shows - actually took place at Lucas’ ranch.

For a time in Hollywood, the Truby method gave classes in the Heroes’ journey, in which seven points are hit on in the profession of the journey the hero is making. 

Hollywood stories used to run on the Shakespeare Five-Act structure - sometimes down to the page i.e. specific things had to “happen” by page “x.” It also had a three-act structure, although no one could tell you where on began and another ended. Campbell’s model (as taught in LA by Truby) offered an alternative. Many movies and stories about heroes that do incorporate the seven points as listed by Campbell, did become very successful. The more obvious was the Star Wars movies, which are, for many, a modern form of mythology set in the future, instead of the past. So, lest anyone think mythology or fairy lore are things of the past, check out the “hero” movies and fairy stories (Disney) at your megaplex and it will become clear that humanity has never ceased to cherish fairy lore and mythology. There have, however been some format changes! It’s its own nourishment…

FAIRYTALES CARRIED ON
Marion Woodman

And so many Jungian psychologies continued on in the tradition of Jung and Campbell. For them the stories provided a mirror to the psyche. Clarissa Pinkola Estés surprise success with her “Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype” evidences the deep interest in stories that resonate and are simply another form of fairytales and myths. 

One of my favorite Jungian psychologists is Marion Woodman. It took a while for me to understand her vernacular but once the meaning of the terms became clear, her work held great insights. I am grateful for all her insights, particularly with respect to artists and the creative process and what’s important to transmit to audiences… 

Marion defines feminine and masculine in archetypal terms, the idea that we all have masculine and feminine aspects, irrespective of gender. She explains the focus of those tales that address the “conjuncto” or sacred marriage of the self to the self in unifying and balancing all of the self. The masculine (paraphrasing) represents more linear thinking and is more linear in nature. The feminine is more representative of circular thinking and is circular in nature. Honestly, it goes a lot deeper than than but hopefully it gives enough basis to explain a fairytale in this light…
 

SLEEPING BEAUTY
What does it mean? 

In this light, another reading of such tales as “Sleeping Beauty” reveals an entirely new and different meaning e.g. Sleeping Beauty represents the feminine in all of us, and in this case, the part of the feminine that is sleeping and awaits the journey of the Prince (the masculine aspect) through the “forest” to the castle (the castle almost always represents the psyche), often using a sword (discernment) to “cut away” those things that get in the way of his moving forward toward the castle to meet and marry that part of himself, or subconscious, that is “sleeping.” 

We often seek in modern times to explain what all the symbolism means but the thinking is that irrespectively of whether we consciously understand the symbols, the effect of hearing these tales is similar. It feeds parts of us.


GREAT LITERATURE AND ARCHTYPES

There is school of thought that relegates the great classic stories of out times to an integration of two aspects of ourselves, namely the conscious and the subconscious, the masculine and feminine. I don’t want to get too deep into the psychology here;) But I found this fascinating anything that helps me to see the world, or stories of the world in a slightly different way, I love to pass it along.

So, when I look at a timeless novel such as “Withering Heights,” which was been described as the ultimate arthtypal story. Heathcliff represents the masculine, a man unable to temper his character. Katherine is similarly lacking. All wildness and raw. Over time and through experience, they “give birth” to the next generation or in archtypal terms, they give birth to a more conscious version of themselves. Their “children” are able to meet each other more easily and ultimately “marry” in a way that the early archtypal versions of the characters could never hope to since they represented the unrefined traits of the feminine and masculine. Once these were tempered, it was easier for the more refined versions of themselves to connect. 

When I began to apply this type of symbolic thinking to all the great novels, it opened up a new world for me. In politics, I even find it helpful to view world events as a series of symbolic stories and much as with fairy lore, fairy tales and myth, it gives me a different view and helps to put things in perspective.

I never stop learning from these stories and songs that were all left to us and for us… Whatever has happened or will happen to me is likely to have happened to those who have gone before - at least at a symbolic level - and knowing this, hearing the stories, hearing the songs, learning them, singing them and thinking about them helps me to be in the world because as much as it appears to be changing, what it means to be human remains very much - the same…   

 

WHY DID FAIRYTALES DIE OUT? DISNEY…

Carl Jung and his cohorts came on the scene parallel to the dying out of fairy lore and many of the folkloric traditions I write about on this site. 

By the mid-twentieth Century, Ireland was quickly moving from a country of mostly small farmers into a newer age. Immigration was high (and always had been), but combine outside influences, with a new availability of newspapers and the advent of mass-transportation, fairy lore and many of its attendant traditions went out of fashion. And not for the first time. 

Interestingly electric was also a factor in the demise of the practice of fairy story telling. It was easier to belief in the presence of the unknown prior to electric light. And if you’ve ever walked a country road on a dark night with no sign of a moon for guidance, it’s easy to see where the idea of fairies come from. More accurately, we ascribe our “fears” to the dark but ultimately, the deepest fear is what’s in ourselves. 

So, when light came to houses and villages and it was possible to “see in the dark,” something in us stopped looking for it outside the door and began to look within.

The advent of newspapers made it more difficult to suspend belief in the existing fairy lore structures as a means of dealing with our human nature. So began the reading of “real” stories from around the world. In addition, immigrants who could now return due to mass transportation carried a new sensibility that didn’t always embrace the old stories or ways. 

And so, it would appear to make perfect sense that the seeds of archetypal psychology came to sprout within a short time of the introduction of electricity, mass transportation and media. Soon the world gave us Jung. 
 

IRISH FAIRYLORE AND THE DARK HALF OF THE YEAR 

I really enjoy the Celtic cycle of the year and have recorded a lot around it, probably mostly because I love the idea of the outer and inner life reflecting each other and having traditions and ways of marking them. From an Irish perspectively, I don’t think I’m alone in this. 

As I’ve written extensively, in the old cycle of the year, day began at dusk, not dawn since the dark was always thought to come before the light, much as with childbirth. 

And the year was divided into two halves, the light half and the dark half. New Year’s Eve began at dawn on the feast of Samhain (Oct 31st) and went until May Day. The light half began on May Day and run until Samhain. The year was divided into “quarter days” or “pattern days” as they later came to be known. The two other pattern days were Lughnasadh (August 1) and Imbolc (Feb 1). The solstices and equinoxes were also acknowledged.

The light half of the year consisted of the business of life, our business. It was the time to sew crops, and harvest them. It was the time for activities of all kinds and very importantly, it was the time of marriages. The light half belonged to the people. 

The dark half was believed to belong to the otherworld. 

It’s when we begin to view this otherworld, not as a series of fantastical characters, but as a reflection of our inner nature, that we can come to enjoy the richness of fairy tales and the valuable function they serve. 

So, it might be fairer to say the light half is for our active selves, the external half. And the dark half is for contemplation, the inner self.
 

WHAT OTHERWORLD?
There are, broadly speaking, three otherworlds that are often referenced in Irish fairy stories and writings. And I do mean broadly since it’s a multi-faceted area.

The Land Beneath the Waves. 

Seafaring men (and they were virtually all male) of old viewed the land beneath the waves as a mysterious netherworld of sorts. Irish mythology and even its songs refers to mermaids.

There’s a plethora of songs about Selkies, another type of sea creature related to the seal that transforms into human formon land, usually, tho not always in female form. 

We see these shape changing stories as part of cultural mythology and lore all over the world. But, as even, I find the Irish/Celtic versions the most intriguing…

The background to the “The Mermaid” song follows a similar storyline to many selkie and mermaid tales from the tradition.

A man goes to sea and often sees a mermaid in the water and falls in love with her. Cy cajoling or capture, she comes to land. Conversely, the selkie may choose the sailor and return to land willingly with him. When the selkie or mermaid arrives on land, she sheds her skin.

Depending on whether she came willingly or not, the seal skin is then hidden by her husband from her, or hidden by the selkie herself so she will not be tempted to return to the sea.

Time passes and even though she longs for her home, the sea, life continues. Children are born. Invariably, the children are the ones who usually (tho not always) find the seal skin. No matter what the circumstances, this resurrection of her old form compels her to put the skin back on. She is then powerless to resist the lure of the sea. Her husband and children are heartbroken… The song has its roots in Donegal. 

In the version of “The Mermaid” that I sing (in Gaelic), her daughter, Máire is on shore sining to her mother. This particular song is somewhat unusual in that it takes place after the mermaid has returned to the sea. In many of the mermaid and selkie stories, the leaving of the land also marks the end of the narrative. In contrast to the complexity of the emotion the mermaid feels, being torn between love for her shore bound children and the magnetic pull of the sea, the melody is very soothing and easy. In this manner it takes on more the qualities of a lullaby than a lament. 
 

SELKIE

This particular Selkie song (most come to us from Scotland), the selkie is, in fact, male and plays as a conversation between the Selkie and a mortal woman. 

We hear the point of view of the Selkie “I am a man upon the land, I am a Selkie in the sea.” And also the point of view of his mortal companion “It was not well” said the maiden fair, “that the great Selkie… should have come and brought a babe to me.”

Much like the fairy tales I’ve mentioned previously and fairy lore in general, songs like “The Mermaid” are not expressing a lesson, a moral stance, or a resolution. They’re simply reflecting what is. I have often thought that any woman who has felt the pull between her children and other vocations, particularly one that feels authentic and puts us in our own skin understands this Mermaids song on a visceral level. For the many women who return to a “calling” such as work, whether for vocational, financial or fulfillment purposes, might they not just as easily relate to the plight of the Mermaid?

And this is why I find myself going back to these songs over and over. A thousand articles and books on the work/home pull have never expressed for me what this song says in three verses.   

The mermaids and selkies, like many mythological creatures, never come to resolve. Some things are not resolvable. They just are. And the greater comfort, as ever, lies in knowing that we are not alone in our situation and that the many others who have gone before have left to us a way to relate and to know we can, albeit ill-at-ease continue to take our place as part of the human family.