Book Club: Ch 6-7

[Sorry for the late posting! I thought I’d already done this one… Whoops! As usual, people are referred to by first initial unless they’re members of the EBoard.]


We began by catching K & S up through the first part of chapter 6, to the heading Demand for the Soul.

S: Supply of the soul?

Aleja: probably your own soul? Or fairies just take your whole you into fairyland P. 101: Fairy familiars not making overt demands for a soul.  “Overt” possibly the key word, but, interesting.  I think it’s pretty commonly believed that those who work for the fae won’t be released in death.  See note pg 104. (We’ll get there in a sec)

Cat: bottom of page 101. Changelings, too.

Aleja: first full paragraph p 102, “part of the human…went into fairyland…associated with trance states.” What we might call journeying or hedgecrossing. That’s pretty much how I get into Faery.

Aleja: p 104. Going bodily into fairyland not a good idea. Because going bodily out of fairyland is unlikely. Heck, Hedgecrossing without knowing what you’re up to isn’t a great idea, either.

Cat: Eating food in fairyland – do you have personal knowledge?

Aleja: Bad idea unless your fairy familiar is very sure it’s okay in the moment, and that there are no loopholes or bad assumptions in the advice you’re given

Cat: Probably don’t consume anything in the Otherworlds

Aleja: Oh wait, but the Morrigan could give you food, as a type of healing, if it’s really her. Or other deities.

K: Kemetic you can, they share offerings with their followers. Called “reverting”

Cat: yeah, but no waste in the desert. In the Greek sphere, Prometheus myth helps humans trick gods into taking bones and fat instead of meat

Aleja: Back to page 102: Some people taken on moment of death. Like Tam Lin

Cat: I’m sad she didn’t include Tam Lin, especially since she included using humans to pay the “tithe to hell.” bottom of page 102

K and S were not familiar with the Ballad of Tam Lin, so Aleja and Cat recounted the story. Several versions can be found here.

Cat: I really like the Tricky Pixie version of Tam Lin.

Cat: halfway down 104, “in the context of the spiritual interpretation of entry into fairyland, whichever method the fairy employed to bring the human into their world, and for whatever reason they wanted them there,the fairy would have been, in effect, desiring and appropriating (for a given length of time) the human spirit or soul.” Implicit vs explicit contract for the soul.

Aleja: Endnote 48: Isobel Gowdie describing the Devil. “Mickle” means tall/lanky. Endnote 49 about the belief that fairy birth rates are low, and that’s why they steal children.

Cat: 109, “in later fairy sources there is evidence that some fairies were believed to consume human blood.”  Influence from demonic learned magic?

Aleja: I think in the folklore the major change was “human blood” rather than “entire human”.  There are plenty of stories of humans being eaten by kelpies and such. I read that more as: in the later sources, after they started actually being collected, we found more diverse types of fairies?

Cat: Oh I thought she meant later fairy beliefs.  Poorly written sentence.

Aleja: You might be right but I interpreted it differently. Possibly worth researching further.

Cat: Walter Evans-Wentz and Robert Kirk and John Campbell all in the same paragraph, BAM. pg 109.

Aleja: Tiny bit surprised no Yeats here, though.

Cat: John Campbell (author of???) not Joseph Campbell (author of The Hero with A Thousand Faces), oops

Aleja: Oh, I mistook that, too. Looked it up in bibliography: Scottish folklorist.

K: fairies and blood is interesting

Aleja: Baobhan sidhe is the story that comes to mind for me

Aleja: end note 73 – fairy dog! But it’s white, sorry

Cat: I like that too.  Black dog and fairy dog lore overlap

Aleja: The Welsh cwn annwn are white

Cat: with red ears!

K: Only other thing that I have a note on is the cold and grey devil the one witch was sleeping with, seems not very infernal?  Different idea of demons.  But to Christians, everything not an angel is a demon

S: True

Cat: Seanan McGuire has ruined fairylore for me, because elf shot etc reminds me of stuff from her books (October Daye Series).


Aleja: p 112 “We have shown how encounter-narratives given by both cunning folk and witches share the same basic narrative structure and emotional dynamic.” And p 113 “we can only conclude that descriptions of encounters with demon familiars found in witch trials were deeply rooted in contemporary folk belief.” Or maybe that’s BECAUSE THEY’RE FAIRIES

Aleja: I now have it on good authority from someone raised in the remnants of Scottish border traditions that yes, the Scottish folkloric devil is a fairy king and a local deity, who has many epithets but his name is never said aloud and therefore not well known anymore.  And also, that fairy faith and witchcraft were basically the same damn thing during this period.  Any separation of the two is “artificial”.

Cat: We’re missing a lot of “obvious” things that were once common knowledge but not written down.  Like how Roman concrete was made with salt water. 

S: My friend likes Persian stuff, and there was this thing where historians were trying to figure out circles on the ground in houses.  Didn’t ask the locals.  Turned out to be a place for small chicks, which they found out when they saw a local still using them. Hens could step over the short brick circle, chicks stuck inside.

Cat: Like the woman who recreated Greek hairstyles. Historians thought the one word couldn’t possibly mean sewing???  But wait, yeah, they did mean sewing the braids with thread.

Aleja: she’s from Maryland! (LINK)

Cat: historians are now actually asking locals and tradespeople more often

Cat: p113 “in the majority of cases, the witch’s familiar behaved like a morally ambivalent spirit, as opposed to a wholly malevolent one. In this sense it mirrored the nature of the early modern fairy.”

Aleja: [Looks into the camera like she’s on the Office]

Cat: morally ambivalent spirit, so the human’s morals and usage is what matters.

Aleja: Fairies are Amoral, not IMmoral. Not black and white and shades of grey; blue and orange and shades of who-the-fuck-knows.

Cat: We can’t ascribe human morality to non-human entities.  That includes deities, fairies, etc.  If you do, you’re misinterpreting them and doing both of you a disservice

Aleja: p 115: “It is notable that in many witch-narratives, the familiar, rather than offering its services specifically to do harm, offers to serve the witch in more general terms.”   This is very “What do you want to do today, Brain?” “The same thing we do every night, Pinky…” Also, that tracks more with my general understanding of familiars.

K: Wilby mentions similarities between “shamanism” and this, tracks more than historical witchcraft

Aleja: Ginzberg, one of her sources on the continent, claims witchcraft is what remains of European “shamanism”

[NB: We did decide to keep using the term in this context, despite it being somewhat problematic, because Wilby uses the term, and we’re discussing her writing.]

Aleja: top of 116, “The distinction between ‘bad cunning woman’ and ‘witch’ must have been a small one, if it existed at all.” Hot Take: There was no distinction at all, in any way that mattered, until you found yourself in a courtroom.

Aleja: 116-117: this clarified some of the things about Bessie Dunlop I wasn’t sure about, like who actually accused her and how she ended up at trial.

K: sounds about right

Cat: But did they find the stolen goods???

Cat: Top of 117, shifting moral status. Fairy don’t give a fuck.  Sucks to be you

Aleja: examples on 117 were particularly interesting. The cunning person thinks they’re a witch now, thinks the familiar was the Devil, but didn’t before.

Cat: p117 “The magical practitioners perception of themselves and their fairy helpers could also then have shifted according to community or prosecutorial perception.” Unreliable narrator, being tortured, mind can change.

Aleja: even if not on-the-rack tortured: gaslighting and sleep deprivation

K: Torture doesn’t get real answer. They say whatever you want to hear

Aleja: bottom of the page, comparing ambivalence of fairies to the ambivalence of the Christian god. The common people didn’t have a solid theological background

Cat: endnote 16 includes saints

Cat: Didn’t Wilby touch on lack of theological understanding earlier? [Yes – See Chapters One and Two]

Aleja: endnote 18, elite ceremonial magical practitioners “used” God, believing him to be amoral as well and not concerned with their dealings

Cat: p118 “the same capacity for contradiction that enabled an individual to feel comfortable negotiating with a spirit capable of evil also enabled them to make use of a spirit which was theoretically hostile to Christianity while still believing themselves to be Christian.”  Paradox supported by Church and State.  Like Boy Scouts: Top Level organization says gay people can’t be members, but many small groups don’t care and will take everyone

Aleja: Or, Santa Muerte in actual Catholic churches in Mexico, or other syncretic systems in the latinx carribean

Cat: Church says “Don’t do the thing.”
Parishioners: “But we like the thing.” 
Church: “Okay, now it’s for Jesus.” 
Like the episode of Adam Ruins Everything about Christmas

Aleja: top of 119.  “Northhamptonshire witch Agnes Wilson (1612), when asked by an interrogator ‘how many gods she did acknowledge’ answered ‘two, God the Father, and the Devil.’ ” Duotheism? Or an acknowledgement of a pre-Christian Deity they’re now calling the Devil.

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