Posted tagged ‘otherworld’

Blog Post 64 – City Spirits

May 25, 2010

Today’s post is going to be a little different.  I’m not going to cite any outside sources (at least, I don’t think I will…I may not be able to fight the urge).  Instead, I’m going to present some thoughts I have had which were spurred on by discussions about modernization last week, and in particular a comment from Crystal on Podcast 10.  She mentioned that as a city witch, she often feels the pull to get back to nature, which got me thinking:  can cities, buildings, and skylines be a part of nature, too?

Now, I know this isn’t an original thought, and that there are deeper philosophical questions here about whether people are a part of nature and therefore whether their creations are also a part of nature, but that’s not really what I’m getting at.  When I talk about “nature” above, I really mean the whole of nature, encompassing the spiritual dimension as well.  I’m thinking more in terms of whether the Otherworld might well have city elements in it.

Do buildings have specific spirits?  Like spirits of the land do?  Can you tap into a building’s spirit and use it in magic?  These are the questions that are swirling about in my head.  For example, there are definite precedents in hoodoo for using things like dirt from a courthouse or a bank or a hospital, because it’s assumed that the land upon which those structures reside will have absorbed a particular type of energetic influence which the root worker can then use for his or her own ends.  Is using that energy akin to using a little bit of the spirit of those places, or is the conjurer simply using accumulated human energy?

Even more to the point, are there places in cities that echo the kind of spiritual resonance found in locations like the Rollright Stones or Stonehenge?  After all, those structures were, at least to some extent, man-made (though I won’t begin to deny that they may be sitting on top of very particularly powerful places that have nothing to do with people).  But why can’t the Empire State Building or Beacon Hill in Boston or the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville have their own resident spirit (or spirits)?  And moreover, why not use places like that to do magic—not just in terms of collecting dirt or knick-knacks for spells, but actually deploying spells there, or finding subtle ways to contact spirits and interact with them in those locations?

For me, train stations have always had this very powerful Otherworldly significance.  I imagine that after death, there’s this sort of “waiting” place which always seems like a train platform to me.  Trains come and go, taking each person off to different post-mortem existences, or sometimes allowing them to just ride and enjoy the scenery for a bit.  There are food cars, drinks, other passengers to play cards with if being dead gets boring…er, at least, that’s how I envision it.  But lately I’m thinking that going to a train station is a lot like going to the Crossroads in traditional hoodoo practice.  I think I may try out a few things at our city train station and see how it goes.  If I do, I’ll be sure to post on that and let y’all know about it.

This is, of course, not an extensive discussion of this idea.  And there are probably lots of better sources for reading and thinking about urban magical practice than our little blog.  In fact, Velma Nightshade over at Witches Brewhaha recently did an episode discussing city witchery that’s well worth checking out (I couldn’t resist the opportunity to link to something).  But I just had to let some of these thoughts out, as they were making a lot of noise in my head and the gerbil that lives there was getting upset.

What about your thoughts and opinions?  Any strong inclinations on city magic?  Does it depend upon specific places?  Is there some way to turn a city landscape of concrete and steel into the same kind of magical place an ancient grove might be?   Do you practice this kind of city magic yourself?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

PS – I will be closing the current polls at 5pm today, so if you still haven’t voted, please do!  See the top right of the sidebar to vote.

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Blog Post 43 – Fairies in the New World

April 8, 2010

The old dwarf Moggo before a pile of wood, telling the little boys that if they did not have it all split into small faggots by the time he returned to dinner, he would put them in a pot and boil them both up.

Hello readers and listeners.

First of all, I know I’m not posting much this week.  Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot to do with my day job, plus a number of other projects to work on (such as my garden).  I’m hoping to be back to daily or near-daily posting again by next week, but I hope you’ll understand if I wind up with some gaps here and there.  I really appreciate all of you who read our little site here.  I hope it continues to be worth visiting.

Now, onto the topic of the day!  I was listening to Jay O’Skully’s latest podcast (check him out if you haven’t yet—he’s quite excellent), which is all about fairies.  That got me to thinking about the role of fairies in the New World.  My first impression was that most of what we conceive of as “fairy tales” come from Old World sources, and that any stories about the Good People on this side of the Atlantic would likely have been imported.  While we certainly have our share of imported tales, I found out that we also have plenty of reason to think the Fair Folk are alive and well all around us.

There are several Native American tales which relate the adventures of fairies (or misadventures with them, in some cases).  Some of these stories don’t explicitly use the word “fairy” to describe the magical people of whose adventures they tell.  For example, there’s a Cherokee legend about “Little People,” who never get called “fairies,” though there is a reference to brownies in the version I read.  They are described thusly:

“The Little People of the Cherokee are a race of Spirits who live in rock caves on the mountain side. They are little fellows and ladies reaching almost to your knees. They are well shaped and handsome, and their hair so long it almost touches the ground. They are very helpful, kind-hearted, and great wonder workers. They love music and spend most of their time drumming, singing, and dancing. They have a very gentle nature, but do not like to be disturbed. “

Other Native American stories do use the word “fairy” when discussing the diminutive otherworldly beings which inhabit the forests, mountains, and waterways of America.  From the Ojibway legend, “The Star Maiden”:

“The Ojibways were a great nation whom the fairies loved. Their land was the home of many spirits, and as long as they lived on the shores of the great lakes the woods in that country were full of fairies. Some of them dwelt in the moss at the roots or on the trunks of trees. Others hid beneath the mushrooms and toadstools. Some changed themselves into bright-winged butterflies or tinier insects with shining wings. This they did that they might be near the children they loved and play with them where they could see and be seen.

But there were also evil spirits in the land. These burrowed in the ground, gnawed at the roots of the loveliest flowers and destroyed them. They breathed upon the corn and blighted it. They listened whenever they heard men talking, and carried the news to those with whom it would make most mischief.

It is because of these wicked fairies that the Indian must be silent in the woods and must not whisper confidences in the camp unless he is sure the spirits are fast asleep under the white blanket of the snow. ”  (from American Indian Fairy Tales, by Margaret Compton, 1907)

There are also plenty of stories from European settlers who brought fairy tale traditions with them, but then found those tales shaped by the new landscape around them.  I’ve already mentioned the little gnome-like men Henry Hudson is supposed to have encountered during his waterway explorations in Blog Post 3.  New England teems with fairy lore, from what I gather.  There’s an excellent book called The Fairies in America by preacher Spencer Wallace Cone (I haven’t found a hard copy yet, but the e-book is available through that link).  This collection of two very elaborate fairy tales includes all the wonderful elements found in Old World stories, with some nice New World twists.  One of my favorites involves two brothers—one kind and loving, the other hard and hateful—who have been saved by a fairy only to find that she must give one of them up to a mysterious Man in Black (I’ll leave witchy implications aside for the moment, there).  She tries to argue the man out of his claim, but he responds with something that struck me as quaintly American:

“’Ho! ho!’ laughed the dark man; ‘our fair mistress of the Diamond Lake has turned lawyer. I know no distinctions, madam…’”

Something about hearing a fairy accused of being “turned lawyer” just makes me smile.

Famous fairy tales were reshaped by their New World surroundings, too.  “Jack and the Beanstalk” has many iterations in the Appalachian mountains, for example.  Some of the changes involve Jack (who is a folk hero figure in many Southern folktales) stealing the giant’s gun and a golden blanket instead of a harp and a golden-egg laying hen.  There are even versions where Jack and his mother are killed by the beanstalk falling on them when they chop it down.  Oh, and I know that a giant isn’t exactly a fairy to some folks, but because he’s a powerful non-human creature inhabiting an otherworldly locale accessible only by magical means, I’m letting it slide here. 🙂

Okay, I’m going to stop here for now, but this is definitely not the end of this topic (though I may wait a few posts before returning to it).  Let me know what you think, and if you have any fairy tales set in the areas around you which you’d like to share I’d love to hear them!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory


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