Background to the author
Fiona MacLeod wrote the play ‘The Immortal Hour’ in 1908, although it would be wrong to refer to MacLeod as a she, for in fact she is a he, a Scottish poet and writer called William Sharp. Sharp was born in Paisley, Scotland in 1855 but throughout his life suffered ill-health. As a child he had a great love of nature and the outdoors which was enhanced by his nurse’s telling of Gaelic folktales and stories. When he was 18 he spent three months living with a company of gypsies. While at university he studied poetry, philosophy, occultism, spiritualism and folklore. In 1876 he voyaged to Australia but came back a year later although thee experience had been powerfully creative. In 1878 he joined the famous Rossetti literary group, a Pre-Raphaelite and aesthetic literary group. In his first book of poetry The Human Inheritance, The New Hope, Motherhood and Other Poems (1882) an important focus is given to Sharp’s early belief in spirit of place (or genus loci), which supports a strong mystical core. These threads of mysticism and spirituality also appeared in many of his later works. Following a trip to Italy in 1891 he entered into a decade of extremely productive and creative writing imbued with all his interests of mysticism, mythology, folklore, spirituality and philosophy. Then in 1892 Sharp published what was to be his greatest and most remarkable work – The Pagan Review – a single issue journal filled with pagan and Celtic historically based works, although all these works were written under the pseudonym of Fiona MacLeod. He also joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and was a central figure in the Edinburgh group, part of the Celtic Twilight or Celtic Revival.
Why the pseudonym Fiona MacLeod? This was not mere vanity on Sharps part but an important part of his literary persona he had created in his early twenties. He wrote to his wife (who happened to be his cousin) “in some things I am more woman than man” and it was a persona he maintained until his death in 1905. In fact, Fiona MacLeod was presented as Sharp’s protégé and his works written under this name evoke a Celtic world combining images of idyllic or harsh highland nature with mystical tales of the brave and beautiful.
Background to The Immortal Hour
The Immortal Hour (written 1908 as Fiona MacLeod) is loosely based on the Irish mythological tale of ‘The Wooing of Etain’ (Tochmarc Étaíne), which appears in the Irish mythological Cycle, partially preserved in the 12th century manuscript The Book of the Dun Cow, and fully preserved in the 15th century Yellow Book of Lecan. It tells of the lives and loves of Etain, a beautiful woman, one of the Tuatha de Danann, who is also equated and associated with the Gaulic Epona, and the Welsh Rhiannon. In both manuscripts she is married to mortal men. However, Midir, son of the Dagda and one of the Tuatha de Danann, falls in love with her. Midir’s wife grows jealous and polymorphs Etain into various things until one day she turns her into a butterfly and as a butterfly she becomes Midir’s constant companion though Midir does not recognise her. Eventually Midir’s wife creates a wind that blows the butterfly away and does not allow it to alight anywhere but the rocks of the sea for seven years.
Eventually it lands on the clothes of Óengus, who recognises it as Étaín, but he is at war with Midir and cannot return her to him. He makes her a little chamber with windows so she can come and go, and carries the chamber with him wherever he goes. But Fúamnach (Midir’s wife) hears of this and creates another wind which blows her away from him for another seven years. Eventually the butterfly falls into a glass of wine. The wine is swallowed (together with the butterfly) by the wife of Étar, an Ulster chieftain, in the time of Conchobar mac Nessa. She becomes pregnant, and Étain is reborn, one thousand and twelve years after her first birth.
Midir then goes to Eochaid Etain’s husband) in his true form and asks to play fidchell, a board game, with him. He offers a stake of fifty horses, loses, and gives Eochaid the horses as promised. Midir challenges him to more games, for higher stakes, and keeps losing. Eochaid, warned by his foster-father that Midir is a being of great power, sets him a series of tasks, including laying a causeway over Móin Lámrige, which he performs reluctantly. He then challenges Eochaid to one final game of fidchell, the stake to be named by the winner. This time, Midir wins, and demands an embrace and a kiss from Étaín. Eochaid agrees that he will have it if he returns in a month’s time. A month later Midir returns. He puts his arms around Étaín, and they turn into swans and fly off.
Eochaid and his men begin digging at the mound of Brí Léith where Midir lives. Midir appears to them and tells Eochaid his wife will be restored to him the following day. The next day fifty women who all look like Étain appear, and an old hag tells Eochaid to choose which one is his wife. He chooses one, but Midir later reveals that Étaín had been pregnant when he had taken her, and the girl he has chosen is her daughter. Eochaid is horrified, because he has slept with his own daughter, who became pregnant with a girl. When the girl is born she is exposed, but she is found and brought up by a herdsman and his wife. She later becomes the mother of the High King Conaire Mor.
One has to remember that the versions of this story differ slightly but the main characters stay the same.
An analysis of The Immortal Hour play
Although The Immortal Hour is based on the Irish mythological tale of the Wooing of Etain, it is steeped in other mythological motifs also. Links can be made to the Greek Eurydice and Orpheus. In fact MacLeod says as much in her introduction to the play. Thus it can be seen as a kind of universal play touching on the love for a man and a woman, the cycle of life and other realities that not only appear in Celtic mythology but in other cultures also. Although the character Dalua does not appear in Irish mythology, MacLeod likens him to the Amadan-Dhu or Dark Fool, who can be equated with our own dark shadow-side, known in the Faerie Tradition as the Dark Fool. Hugh Mynne writes in “The Faerie Way” the encounter with the Dark Goddess is thus an encounter with our own psychic waste material, our own “garbage.” By facing Her we face our own shadow-self, known in the Faerie Tradition as the Dark Fool, and named Dalua.
Dennis Denisoff, The Yellow Nineties Online, 2010
Hugh Mynne, The Faerie Way: A Healing Journey to Other Worlds
Caitlin & John Matthews, Walkers Between the Worlds: The Western Mysteries from Shaman to Magus
Caitlin & John Matthews, The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom
Greetings, dear readers, this is my first post of 2014 and what better way than to start the new year than to jot down my thoughts on the Fae, Spirits and Elementals. I think I’ve probably written something about this topic before but for the life of me cannot remember, so bear with me. Of course there are many ideas about these three groups and I’m going to paint a broad picture of how they sit in my own belief system and from my own experiences with them. of course many of you know that I follow a shamanic path so perhaps my thoughts may be a bit different to your own but each person’s experience is individual and I truly believe there are no right or wrong experiences….they are what they are. So let’s kick off with The Fae (or faeries/fairies).
Who are the Fae?
First of all I’d like to clear one thing out of the way first. I do not hold with the idea that the Fae are tiny winged creatures. This is a Victorian notion and actually does the Fae a great injustice. The Fae are actually what is known as the Tuatha de Danann (pronounced Tootha de Danarn), or Children of Danu. Now, Danu is the ancient Celtic great mother goddess and is not tied solely to Ireland. In fact she is a pan-Celtic goddess appearing in many places. For example, she is equated with the Welsh Goddess Don, and in the Rig-Veda she appears with the same name Danu. The River Danube is actually named after her too. However, in Ireland she appears as Danu, and her progeny were known as the Children of Danu or Tuatha de Danann who were the fifth group of people to settle Ireland having wrested it from the Fir Bolg (According to a theory proposed by O’Rahilly: the Fir Bolg are linked to the historical Belgae tribe, known from Gaul and Britain, and to the historical Builg of Munster). The Tuatha were highly skilled in magic and working silver and had four magical treasures – The Dagda’s cauldron, the spear of Lugh, the stone of Fal and the sword of Light. However, eventually the Tuatha were defeated by the Milesians and unfortunately they were banished underground to the Sidhe (prounounced Shee) mounds, or hollow hills. Here they diminished and over time became what we now refer to as fairies/faeries/The Fae. Nevertheless, it is important to note the word *diminished* here. This word can be used to describe being reduced in size, or in power. If you’ve watched the film Lord of the Rings you might remember the elf Galadriel saying “we will diminish and go into the West”. She did not mean reduce in size but reduce in power – the elves time in Middle Earth was over. So too with the Tuatha, whose time of rule was now over. So the Children of Danu now reside in the Otherworld, and are often referred to as the Sidhe, or the Fae.
All that is…is Alive
Now we come on to Nature Spirits – those spirits/entities that inhabit the natural world. In Greek mythology they are often called dryads, dyads and nymphs. However, in my view this is restrictive. Through following a shamanic path I’ve learnt that nature spirits abound EVERYWHERE and are not necessarily tied to a certain place (although they can be). Every plant, tree, lichen, moss, crystal, rock and pebble is a nature spirit, every river and stream, every volcano and marsh is one and contains many of them. Even that pot of mint or rosemary growing in your kitchen is a nature spirit; and for those of you who collect crystals, just think how many nature spirits you have in your house. Of course, as I’ve already mentioned, some nature spirits are connected with a particular place. In fact it’s impossible to quantify nature spirits because they are literally everywhere – as we shamans are fond of saying…all that is…is alive!
It’s all Elemental my dear Watson
Finally we come to the Elementals. Now my view of them is slightly different from that of Wicca, which sees elementals as the guardians of the elements air, fire, water and earth. In Wicca the elementals of air are known as Sylphs, those of fire are Salamanders, those of water are Undines and those of earth are known as Gnomes. Instead I rather see elementals AS elements themselves and closely tied to weather patterns, air streams, ocean currents and so forth. Moreover, elementals never work solitarily but always in connection with other elementals. for example clouds are air and water, water always helps earth, volcanoes are earth and fire, fire always has the help of air, water spouts are air and water. Although some weather patterns such as tornadoes can be pure air, earthquakes are pure earth but you’ll usually find one elemental working closely with another one. I like to see elementals as the great movers and shakers of life and they are extremely powerful as us humans know only too well.
O’Rahilly, T. F. (1946) Early Irish History and Mythology. Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies
Ellis, Peter Berresford (2002) The Mammoth Book of Celtic Myths and Legends
This marks a new journey I am taking, well actually not so new at all but now in the company of like-minded and good people who share thoughts in common. I am honoured to be participating in The Faerie Ring and posts with this logo will share my journey and thoughts with you all. I’d like to talk today about the natural and supernatural, or reality and fantasy as some might put it.
For me there really is no difference, or rather the supernatural and the natural permeates and blends with each other so there really is no demarcation line between the two. I suppose this might be because of my shamanic practice, where spirits abound everywhere [all that is…is alive]. This even extends to the human species – we ARE spirits in human form, and not humans with a spirit if you see what I mean. So, for me the spirit world (or supernatural as some call it) is very much a reality. Of course some might call it fantasy on my part and that’s ok – each to his or her own understanding.
However, I do believe in fantasy over reality too. For me, fantasy abounds when I do not think or act in my best interests. A really easy example would be to think that relationships always stay in the ‘honeymoon’ period and don’t need working on – that’s fantasy. Another fantasy would be to think I can just work a spell and not act in accordance with it. For example, to work an abundance spell for more money and then to spend frivolously. For me reality is that we need to be working and acting in accordance with our intention, whatever they may be.
Much of what the world sees as fantasy these days has its roots in the collective unconscious (Jung) and has built upon what our ancient ancestors once believed to be true. Everything has a kernel of truth in it. What we do with that truth is entirely up to us.