folklorelei: (the siren)


There’s a fascinating book that I would half-recommend: Running With the Fairies: Towards a Transpersonal Anthropology of Religion by Dennis Gaffin. The first half of the book worked quite well for me, but I didn’t think the latter half of personal testimonies from people who believe they are reincarnated fairies or actual fairies in human bodies quite jelled. I support people believing whatever they like—and it harm none—but I had a problem with their adamant insistence that there is no such thing as a dark side to the fairies. All is sweetness and light in their Universe. Which flies in the face of millennia of human folklore and experience which sees the fairies as a tricksy lot, often inimical to humanity. The believers in this book put that down to superstition and ignorance, but I’m not so certain. People in past centuries may have been superstitious and ignorant, but in general were no more clever or no more stupid then we are. And they had a much vaster experience of the dark side of nature than most of us do these days. It’s easier to discount that chthonic world when you have electric lights and indoor plumbing. If there are such things as fairies, there may indeed be good ones, but I suspect most are at best ambivalent towards humans, and some may actually be malevolent.

But anyway, Dennis Gaffin. He’s an academic (a Professor of Anthropology at the State University of New York College at Buffalo) who has done something quite rare: a serious study of contemporary Irish fairy belief. Academics are big on doing serious studies of the folk traditions of Buddhists or South Seas Islanders or Native Americans, et al., but there’s a prejudice against turning that same eye towards Western folk beliefs. It’s an inherently racist stand, I think, that Those People and their Quaint Beliefs are okay to study, but somehow Western belief structures must be dismissed as silly trash. It’s as if the people who are doing the studies have decided that First Worlders are “too good” to have such ideas, that they must be ruthlessly derided and suppressed by Western academia so we can preserve our collective First World reputation.

So Professor Gaffin runs an academic risk here. True, he’s an anthropologist who’s gone native, so to speak, and now perceives fairies his own self. Which further risks his academic reputation, I suppose, but his point of view straddling both worlds is fascinating to me. I feel a kinship to him.
Have I ever seen a fairy? No. Nor heard none, neither. Do I believe in fairies? That’s a thorny question. I believe in another world that cozies up to this one and sometimes leaks through. I suspect that Whatever takes many forms and some people—otherwise rational and solid citizens—see It as fairies. Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, devas, dakinis, djinn, angels, name your poison. It’s all part of the same bag: That Which Leaks Through.

It’s okay. I know you think I’m crazy. When I say I don’t care, I don’t mean it in a snotty or rebellious way. I mean that I made a conscious decision some time ago to share the things of the spirit as they come to me, in case someone else is having similar experiences and wondering if they’re nuts. I can’t answer the question of sanity, but I do know that I am a rational person who occasionally has trans-rational experiences.

When it comes to belief, experience is the core of it, an emotional heart-to-heart with something beyond the narrow confines of personal ego. It’s not a received wisdom, which is why religion often fails to convince. “Belief cannot be transferred,” says Professor Gaffin, “for it is a function of experience.” These things often seem to go hand-in-hand with a closeness to nature. As we move more and more away from the natural world and more into a mechanized, urbanized environment those experiences become more rare.

Scientific education is a great thing and a fundamentally good way of looking at the world. I highly recommend it. But even scientists (well, the rational ones) will admit they don’t have all the answers. There was a time when I was about ninety percent of the way towards atheist. I called myself agnostic, but I’d come to view the Universe as fairly mechanistic. At one point, I finally said, “Okay, I don’t believe there’s anything else.” The Universe decided to call my bet. Almost as soon as I’d uttered that sentence It sent me an extraordinary experience. Followed by another and another until I capitulated, swept up in what to me was irrefutable evidence of there being something else. Generally, I’ve been a great deal happier in my “defeat” than I was in my “victorious” skepticism.

Why me? Why was I sent experiential data? I haven’t a clue. That’s the thing about the Universe. It’s a big freaking mystery with big freaking mysterious ways. We wander down half-formed pathways with thick fog on either side and every once in a while the mists lift to reveal a dazzling view of sheer cliffs and the dramatic crashing of waves far below. Then the clouds return and we proceed on the path—but once you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see that amazing sight. You’ve glimpsed the beauty and the peril lying just beyond the verge. You step carefully from that point on.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)


Odd beliefs cling to the face of the moon—and why not? It hangs above us in splendid glory and from the first blink of consciousness, primates must have gazed on it in wonder and fright and superstition. It’s inside of us, too, its cycles shaping the ebb and flow of our internal tides. The moon is a very powerful object, pulling and deforming the shape of the earth as it rotates around us. Why shouldn’t it also pull and deform the creatures that crawl upon the earth?

Science remains skeptical. Oh, not about the pull of the moon on earth’s tides and geography, but on the claims of its influence on human beings. ER doctors, police, mental health professionals may all come up with strong anecdotal evidence of altered behavior during full moons, but scientists—who require replicable studies to believe things and are no fun at all—find it hard to take such things seriously. Even when they do produce a study that suggests some aspects of moon lore may have a basis in fact, they are quick to point out that a single study must be viewed with a certain amount of cynicism. Sometimes even by those who produced the study.

Take for example the belief that a full moon leads to restless sleep. A study from 2013 suggests there may be some basis to this. Christian Cajochen and his colleagues at the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel decided to do sleep studies on 33 volunteers and found that around the time of the full moon, the kind of brain activity associated with deep sleep decreased by 30 percent, participants took slightly longer to fall asleep than they did at other times, and slept on average twenty minutes less overall. What I find most significant is that their levels of melatonin also diminished during this period. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates sleeping and waking cycles.

However, when interviewed by National Public Radio, Cajochen was quick to downplay his own study, saying the findings might not hold up in a larger investigation. Other scientists remain adamantly and steadfastly skeptical, demanding more research before they take anything to do with moon madness seriously. Like I said, no fun at all.

A 2014 study at the Max Planck institute found no significant connection between the lunar cycle and sleep.

Research published in March of 2016 of 5,800 children between ages 9 and 11 in 12 different countries found that they slept about five minutes less on nights with a full moon.

So. The search for truth continues. So do the myths. I suspect science will never be able to completely convince those on the front lines of moon madness triage that there is no correlation. As for me, I will continue to “purify” and “charge” my crystals by the light of the full moon. You just can’t be too careful about such things.

This is an interesting overview of scientific studies on moon madness.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

"Because I have heard that for those who enter Fairy Land there is no going back. They must go on, and go through it." —R. Macdonald Robertson, Selected Highland Tales