Staqeya: Sacred Wolf of the Songhees

The 25-foot Amanda Anne plows through the frigid February waters of the Juan De Fuca Strait. Somewhere in the darkness ahead of us are the islands habituated by a wolf many in the Songhees First Nation believe is sacred.

Campers were the first to report a lone wolf on Discovery Island, east of Victoria, in 2012. Conservation officers dismissed the sightings as mistaken identity. Perhaps a dog had been abandoned on the island? While coastal wolves have been known to swim short distances, it seemed unlikely that this one would have swam the five km. from the city of Victoria.

However, Songhees First Nations members and conservation officers have since confirmed that the skittish animal is a coastal wolf. Discovery Island is part marine provincial park, part Songhees reserve land, but the wolf has also been spotted on various other islands nearby, including First Nations reserve lands such as the Chatham Islands. It has been dubbed Staqeya by the Songhees, which means “wolf” in their Coast Salish Dialect.

Continue reading “Staqeya: Sacred Wolf of the Songhees”

Save the Wolf! (again?)

Save the Wolf
Dakota Wolf by Retron. 2008

 

The wolf! Even its name inspired fear! It was once believed, in fact, to be the killer of newborn babies, the harborer of demons, the messenger of the devil, and the devourer of all lost and wandering souls. To some cultures the wolf was actually a god, to others, he was a menacing chained-up apocalyptic figure barely being restrained.

Eventually, the age of reason had arrived and with it came a new dawn of intellectual understanding. Stripped of its mythologies, the wolf came to represent beauty, intelligence, endurance and freedom. Over time, we would come to discover that the wolf preyed on the diseased and the weak, foraged for rodents, and covered vast territories previously believed impossible.

It was almost too late though. The wolf had already been pushed to extinction in countless countries. The last wolf of Ireland was killed around 1786. In Scotland it was 1743. In England it was during the reign of King Henry VII (1485-1509). In the new world, the wolf hardly faired any better, either. In the Atlantic provinces of Canada, the wolf was killed off between 1870 and 1921. From 1900 – 1930 the wolf was almost successfully eliminated from the western part of the United States. The wolf, as is now well known, was clearly marked for extinction.

Nowadays, due to the efforts of countless individuals, the wolf roams many parts of North America once more. Its range stretches across much of Canada, Alaska, and in areas of Washington, Montana, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. In 2003, the wolf was finally removed from the “endangered” list in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. It was classified as “threatened” instead. This year, in 2012, the American government announced to the world that it had now successfully saved the wolf and that it had been removed from its “threatened” category. Truly, it was a great day for wolf lovers everywhere. The ‘Save the Wolf’ campaign had been a success!

And why wouldn’t we be filled with pride? We all deserved a pat on the back. We were proud that states like Wisconsin had saved the wolf. In fact, it felt like we had all somehow saved the wolf. It certainly wasn’t some unknown insect from Asia! It was the wolf of all things! Dog lovers had come to admire the traces of wolf blood found in their pets. Others awoke to a new way of understanding as they too helped save the wolf. In fact, the wolf had begun to feel less like a beast and more like a friend. Photographers, authors, documentarians, and celebrities had been sharing the wolf’s journey with us all along. We had seen images of wolves giving birth, of grieving packs, of renewal, of hope, and of promise for a brighter future for the wolf for us, for our children, and for our children’s children! From Yellowstone National Park we had even learned that we needed the wolf for a healthy and sustainable wilderness. Yes, the wolf had become our friend and because of this new age of kinship we were happy that she’d finally been saved once and for all!

The wolf – I’m not afraid to admit – is also very special to me. So much so, in fact, that I too was filled with a teary-eyed joy when I learned the Wisconsin wolf had been taken off the “threatened” species list. I believe there may have even been a fist pump involved. In a time of so much negative media attention, such an announcement was a reprieve from the usual American political norm. It was one of those feel-good stories that actually seemed to matter. It wasn’t the cat saved from the tree story either, it was real! It truly felt like something great had happened. Like everyone else, I absorbed the news and felt all warm and fuzzy inside. I then went about my regular life with a still sense of satisfaction knowing that the wolf had now just been saved.

As I did so – went about my life that is – several states prepared to reintroduce, or continue, the wolf hunt once more. Once again, people of all walks of life began to see what was happening in their home states and across their country. There were petitions and speeches, courthouse dealings, and general discontentment expressed by people from all walks of life. Eventually, I too was shaken out of my bubble of Naiveté as well.

I first heard of the Wisconsin wolf hunt a few days ago on Twitter as someone cried out that we needed to save the wolf! Understandably, I was confused and upset. I thought that the news must be some sort of mistake, a rampant rumor, or an urban myth. What I discovered, however, was that the Wisconsin wolf hunt was all too real.

There were 3277 applicants for Wisconsin wolf hunting permits on the first two days. A week later, as of yesterday, that number had reached 7000. A more recent report has the number now at 10,000. It was easy to read the full story online. Out of a population of 800 wolves, 201 had been slated for extermination. The DNR was considering giving out roughly 2000 hunting permits (minus First Nation hunting needs). If the 201 wolves were killed during the hunting season, then the wolf hunt would officially be over for the year.

Resistance was fierce, but with so many hunters in support of the wolf hunt it began to look rather bleak. It was a courtroom decision that finally bought the wolf hunt’s opposition a little more time. In Wisconsin, it would seem, that besides using guns, bows, crossbows, bait, night hunting and traps, that “a pack of dogs” was one of the hunter’s preferred methods of killing the animal. The images are horrific. Understandably, the court is now viewing the animal cruelty allegations. In other states – where wolves have also been delisted – the wolf hunt will go ahead as planned.

Never mind that wolves are now known to be more intelligent than originally conceived, that they bring an ecological balance, that they are unbelievably intelligent, and that they are not posing the threats in which they are being accused of… the real mystery to me is why 10,000 educated intelligent people would suddenly feel the need to hunt wolves? The answer is simple. As usual it’s about politics, and being American politics these decisions will ultimately have an impact on all of us.

Save the Wolf

The two motives calling for the extermination of 201 wolves can easily be found. Both of these reasons claim that a resolution will be reached only if wolves can be killed. The first claims that the wolf is killing off all the deer; the second claims that the wolf is annihilating too many cattle.

It hardly seems fair to even address the first motive it’s so misinformed. The wolf can only catch the sick and the young. While wolf packs can pose a threat to certain herds, these are usually protected pockets of herbivores and not wild deer at all. If the deer of Wisconsin is truly being threatened then the call for stewardship to protect these animals has been surprisingly slow. In fact, I could not find a single statistical report to support this claim at all.

The reason given most often for the wolf hunt, however, is not the elimination of deer but the wholesale murder of Wisconsin’s cows. Apparently, as we’ve been sleeping soundly at night, wolves have been killing cows en masse. So many cows have been killed, in fact, that over 200 wolves must now pay for it with their lives. This campaign is not really a “kill the wolf” type of campaign, after all, but more of a “save the rancher” type of movement it would seem. It seems that cattle ranchers don’t like to think outside of the box. Even worse, it seems to be more of a perceived threat than an actual one.

Unfortunately, the image promoted by this group is also somewhat mythological in nature. It is hard not to imagine a lone cowboy. He looks surprisingly like the Marlboro man, you know, with the cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He leans over this poor, dead, innocent baby cow as its mother wails in agony nearby. His horse snorts anxiously as it smells the lingering culprit of the killing. The cowboy’s face shows lines of concern as he wonders if they’ll be able to survive the coming winter without the calf.  He worries about his wife and three small children. He looks towards the heavens for an answer…

The reality is that in Wisconsin’s “beef cow numbers increased 10% between 2000 and 2005” and continued to do so. Small cattle farmers reported that beef was only a portion of their income and that they enjoyed a good lifestyle and quality of life (80%). Truthfully, from big business to small farmer, the cow industry is extremely influential in Wisconsin. There is, however, no Marlboro man. Not any more.

If the cattle industry has become so fragile, however, that we feel the need to kill ¼ of the wolf population in Wisconsin, then maybe it’s time for us – as a society – to look towards other food alternatives other than beef? I love a good steak as much as the next guy, but geez, not at the cost of 200 wolves’ lives! In fact, I would be happy to pay a little more for a burger if it meant protecting the wolf in the process. I would even stop eating beef all together if that’s what’s really being asked of me. If that truly is the only other alternative being offered by the State of Wisconsin then maybe it is time to give up the red meat? It’s basic economics really.

In the old day, they used to just hire a couple of guys on horses with rifles to watch over the herd. That was before the mass poisonings that led to the wolves near extinction in many states across North America in the first place. Back in those days, the herd was something to be watched over and protected. What happened, I wonder? The math is still easy. As of May 2012 Wisconsin is still reporting an unemployment rate of 6.8%. In Wisconsin, certainly some of these individuals can already ride a horse? Others could be taught. If a multi billion-dollar industry can’t afford to hire a few unemployed taxpayers then maybe the ride really is over. Like they say, however, all good things come to an end.

Outside of Wisconsin the wolf hunt also matters and it’s not just because we do like their beef. It’s not only because the United States sets a sort of legal precedent – even outside of its own country – but it’s because we’ve now entered a new age of understanding and awareness. A wolf is no longer just a wolf. The evidence has been overwhelming. They are social, intelligent, emotional, and quite possibly self-aware. There are other points that seem to make it wrong to kill them, as well. The wolf has been revered spiritually as far back as we know from records and art. They have also been historically persecuted for our inability to manage resources such as cows and sheep in the first place. At what point do we learn from the mistakes of our past? Looking in, from outside of Wisconsin, it seems even more overwhelmingly wrong. Would any of these 201 wolves even get eaten? Of course not. To me, this in itself is unjust on so many levels. If you kill something and you don’t eat it then you are at war with it. Plain and simple. Besides, ¼ of all wolves seems a little steep doesn’t it? In a human population that would be considered genocide.

When I think of Wisconsin, I think of rugged wilderness, dairy farms, football fields, fishing, old haunted pubs and friendly faces. I think of people of vision like Gary Gygax, Harry Houdini, Les Paul, and Oprah Winfrey. I certainly don’t think about a wolf hunt that truly seems to be nothing more than sport. Certainly, I am forced to ask myself, Wisconsin is more progressive than that?

With the Wisconsin wolf hunt temporarily paused now is the time to act! Please “Like” the Stop the Wisconsin Wolf Hunt 2012 facebook page. Sign the petition below as well. Even though it is already submitted (past date) this can still be presented to various levels of government and is what gets political involvement from influential people in the fight to save the wolf. The group Howling for Wolves, below, also accepts donations. Most importantly spread the word! Awareness is everything! More people applied for wolf hunting licenses than signed the petition. That’s a sad state of affairs, but one in which we can easily remedy.

 

Say no to Wisconsin Wolf Hunt petition:

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/no-wolf-hunting-in-wisconsin/

Howling for Wolves & Donation:

http://www.howlingforwolves.org/our-purpose

News: Wolf hunting permit applications top 3,000 in 2 days:

http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/environment/wolf-hunting-permit-applications-top-in-days/article_2aab3994-dce7-11e1-a1a4-0019bb2963f4.html

News: Lawsuit against Wisconsin:

http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/environment/lawsuit-against-dnr-seeks-to-stop-wolf-hunt/article_f56414c2-e191-11e1-9887-0019bb2963f4.html

 

Also, unrelated but for the wolf lover just the same, the wolf as it’s been found in Celtic folklore and myth: the Celtic Werewolf

 

The Celtic Werewolf

The Celtic Werewolf
Werewolf. 18th century engraving

The Celtic Wolf is a complex and Otherworldly creature. Wolves, it would seem, have always had varied personalities as diverse as their human counterparts. Where one shapeshifting wolf could be seen as evil, for example, the next might very well turn towards a travelling priest and begin to preach the gospel.

Lady Guest’s 1877 classic, the Mabinogion, was an English translation of some of the 11th century surviving Welsh tales. Not only do we find some of the earliest known stories of Arthur within the text, but we’re also able to observe a few of the first Celtic wolf stories ever recorded. Incidentally, they’re all about shapeshifters.

In the first story, the king’s nephews Gilvaethwy and Gwydion are being punished for having raped one of the king’s virgin handmaidens. Upon receiving their sentence, the two boys are struck by the king with his wooden rod, which in turn changes them into a proud stag and a beautiful hind. Over the next year the pair breed with one another and they knew one another (to use an under appreciated  biblical term). Following this first year of exile, the king then strikes the two beasts with his rod once more. This time, however, they’re turned into a boar and a sow. The mating couple returns once more following another year of high-octane pleasure. Finally, the king converts them into a male and female wolf. The wolf pair then mates for another full year. Following this third year of transformation, the two men are finally forgiven and restored to their human forms. With the original rape now being restituted, Gwydion is free to transform into the god-like figure he would become later in the tale[i].

The two boys aren’t the only shapeshifters found in the Mabinogion either. The poet Taliesin brags:

“I have fled as a wolf cub. I have fled as a wolf in the wilderness.”

The Mabinogion has another wolf curse within its pages, as well. In this story, there’s a princess who’s been transformed into a wolf for “her sins.” While living as a wolf the princess has two wolf cubs. It is Arthur who restores them to human form.

In Winifred Faraday’s 1904 translation of the 12th century Tain we find an Irish story involving the wolf. In this tale, the goddess Morigan curses Cuchulain. She says to him:

“I will drive cattle on the ford to you, in the form of a grey she-wolf.”

Later, she makes good of this promise and does just that.

In Sir George Douglas’ 1773 book Scottish Fairy Tales, we begin to see some Aesop-like stories emerging in the lands of the Celts. Within the stories are several talking animals of the forest. Here, the fox is usually tricking the wolf in some way. The fox is generally seen as clever and conniving, while the wolf is portrayed as strong and thick-headed.

In the 1884 book Fairy Mythology of Various Countries by Thomas Keightly, we find a Breton tale that speaks of the werewolf:

“No one who became a wolf could resume his human form, unless he could recover the clothes which he put off previous to undergoing the transformation.”

Celtic Werewolf
Aberdeen Bestiary. 12th century

In Lady Wilde’s 1887 classic Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland we find one of my favorite werewolf stories of all time. In it, a young farmer named Conner is out searching for some missing cows when he stumbles upon a cabin of sorts. It’s dark out, and Conner has lost his way. The host who greets him at the door invites him inside. The family then begins to return home one after the other:

Before Connor could answer another knock was heard, and in came a second wolf, who passed on to the inner room like the first, and soon after, another dark, handsome youth came out and sat down to supper with them, glaring at Connor with his keen eyes, but said no word.

These are our sons,” said the old man, “tell them what you want, and what brought you here amongst us, for we live alone and don’t care to have spies and strangers coming to our place.”

Then Connor told his story, how he had lost his two fine cows, and had searched all day and found no trace of them; and he knew nothing of the place he was in, nor of the kindly gentleman who asked him to supper but if they just told him where to find his cows lie would thank them, and make the best of his way home at once.

Then they all laughed and looked at each other, and the old hag looked more frightful than ever when she showed her long, sharp teeth.

On this, Connor grew angry, for he was hot tempered; and he grasped his blackthorn stick firmly in his hand and stood up, and bade them open the door for him; for he would go his way, since they would give no heed and only mocked him.

Then the eldest of the young men stood up. “Wait,” he said, “we are fierce and evil, but we never forget a kindness. Do you remember, one day down in the glen you found a poor little wolf in great agony and like to die, because a sharp thorn had pierced his side? And you gently extracted the thorn and gave him a drink, and went your way leaving him in peace and rest?”

Aye, well do I remember it,” said Connor, “and how the poor little beast licked my hand in gratitude.”

Well,” said the young man, “I am that wolf, and I shall help you if I can, but stay with us to-night and have no fear.”

So they sat down again to supper and feasted merrily, and then all fell fast asleep, and Connor knew nothing more till he awoke in the morning and found himself by a large hay-rick in his own field.

A wolf then brings Conner some new cows. Surprised, he realizes that it’s the same wolf which had said it would help him in the cabin. As a result, Conner sees himself as a friend to the wolves for the rest of his life.

Elsewhere in the book, a poet exorcises an evil king as the moon rises into the dark night’s sky. When the spirit is cast out of the king, it becomes a large dead wolf[ii].

There are two important passages regarding the wolf in J. F. Campbell’s 1890 encyclopedias Popular Tales of the West Highlands.  In volume 1 it is stated that:

“Men learn courage from the lion and the wolf.”

In volume 4 of Popular Tales of the West Highlands we are told of a goblin that appears to some shipwrecked sailors as a pig, a wolf, an old woman, and a ball of fire.

Of course, it’s always nice to see some feral carnivorous creature dancing around upon its hind legs. We receive such a treat in Joseph Jacob’s 1892 work Celtic Fairy Tales. Within these tales we also learn of a prince Llewelyn, who as a baby killed a wolf assassin with his deadly baby fists (in some stories killed by his dog Gelert).

In his next book More Celtic Fairy Tales, published in 1894, Jacobs tells us of a woman who strikes her husband repetitively with a wooden stick. Every time he’s struck he transforms into a different animal. This list includes the wolf.

In the 1906 Book of Saints and Wonders by Lady Gregory we even find a saintly wolf. A priest is wandering through the forest. A wolf asks if she can be blessed and make a confession. After the priest complies, the Irish wolf issues forth the following revelation:

“It was through the sin of the people of this country Almighty God was displeased with them and sent that race to bring them into bondage, and so they must be until the Gall themselves will be encumbered with sin. And at that time the people of Ireland will have power to put on them the same wretchedness for their sins.”

In the year 1911, J. F. Campbell and G. Henderson collaborated on a book called the Celtic Dragon Myth. In it, a wolf tells a herder that if he ever becomes “hard pressed” that he should think of him. The herder does so, later shapeshifting into a wolf. He does this three times in order to fight a ram, a giant, and a dragon. The wolf defeats all three.

In Thomas Rolleston’s Myth and Legends of the Celtic Race – from the same year – we’re told that a full-grown adult wolf was buried inside of a man’s back wound. There, the wolf was found “up to it’s shoulders” inside the flesh. It was a good thing that they found him too. The wounded man had merely felt a pain in his back and had decided to have someone check it out for him.

There is an especially interesting section on wolves in George Henderson’s Survival in Belief Amongst Celts, which was also published in 1911:

The Soul in Wolf-form: The existence of this belief in animal parentage is seen from the Leabhar Breathnach. Here we read: “The descendants of the wolf are in Ossory (Osriage). There are certain people in Ossory; they pass into the form of wolves whenever they please, and kill cattle according to the custom of wolves, and they quit their own bodies; when they go forth in the wolf-forms they charge their friends not to remove their bodies, for if they are moved they will not be able to come again into them (their bodies); and if they are wounded while abroad, the same wounds will be on their bodies in their houses; and the raw flesh devoured while abroad will be in their teeth.”

This belief was current in the days of Fynes Moryson, who mentions the report that in Upper Ossory and Ormond men are yearly turned into wolves. And long before then Gerald, the Welshman, had heard a story of two wolves who had been a man and woman of the Ossorians. They were transformed into wolves every seven years through a curse imposed by St. Naal or Natalis, abbot of Kilmanagh, Kilkenny, in the sixth century. They were banished to Meath, where they met a priest in a wood, shortly ere Earl John came to Ireland in the days of Henry II. They retained the use of language and were fabled with having foretold the invasion of the foreigner. The Latin legend declares the substance of what the wolf said to the priest: “A certain sept of the men of Ossory are we; every seventh year through the curse of St. Natalis the Abbot, we two, man and woman, are compelled to leave our shape and our bounds.” Then having been divested of human form, animal form is assumed. Having completed their seven years, should they survive so long, if two other Ossorians be substituted instead of these, the former return to their pristine form and fatherland.

Old Ireland
Map of Ireland, circa 900

In personal and tribal names the wolf meets us, e.g. Cinel Loairn, whence modern Lome in Argyll, after which is named the marquisate in the ducal family, from Gadhelic Loam, wolf. In Ireland it is told of Laignech Faelad that he was the man “that used to shift into wolf-shapes. He and his offspring after him used to go whenever they pleased, into the shapes of the wolves, and, after the custom of wolves, kill the herds. Wherefore he was called Laignech Fdelad, for he was the first of them to go into a wolf- shape.”

The Celtic god Dis Pater, from whom, according to Caesar’s account, the Gauls were descended, is represented as clad in wolf-skin, and holding a vessel, also a mallet with a long shaft, which, Monsieur Reinach thinks, recalls the image of the Etruscan Charon. “A low-relief at Sarrebourg, in Lorraine,” says this eminent authority, “proves that one of the epithets of this Gaulish god was Sucellus, signifying ‘one who strikes well.’ The wolf skin leads to the presumption that the god was originally a wolf, roving and ravaging during the night time. This god has been identified with the Latin Silvanus, the woodman or forester who gave chase to the wolves — of old a wolf himself. On this view, which M. Reinach favours, at least a section of the Gauls had a national legend identical with that of the Romans: like Romulus they were the children of the wolf, and M. Reinach suggests that perhaps it was on this account that the Arverni called themselves brethren of the Latins. If so, we have a close parallel to Gadhelic tradition.

Spenser says that “some of the Irish doe use to make the wolf their gossip;” and Camden adds that they term them” Chari Christi, praying for them, and wishing them well, and having contracted this intimacy, professed to have no fear from their four-footed allies.” Fynes Moryson expressly mentions the popular dislike to killing wolves. Aubrey adds that “in Ireland they value the fang-tooth of an wolfe, which they set in silver and gold as we doe ye Coralls.”

At Claddagh there is a local saint, Mac Dara, whose real name according to folk-belief was Sinach, ‘a fox,’ a probably non- Aryan name. The Irish onchii, ‘leopard,’ also ‘standard,’ whence G. onnchon, ‘standard,’  from French onceau, once, ‘a species of jaguar,’ seems preserved in Wester Ross with the change of n to r, as or chu, written odhar chu, in the sense of wolf: the howl of the creature thus named inspired the natives of old with a fear and awe which had their origin in days when the wolf prowled of evenings among the flocks.

Another interesting mention of the wolf is also found in the text:

“A Breton tale tells of a giant’s life as being in an egg, in a dove, in a horse, in a wolf, which lives in a coffer at the bottom of the sea.”

In the 1932 book Shetland Traditional Lore by Jessie Saxby we learn of the Wulver. The Wulver was basically a wolf headed man who lived by fishing the lakes of the Shetland Islands. The Wulver would sometimes leave fish on the window sills of poor people’s homes. The beast was both friendly and charitable, unless it was provoked.

Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica – published in 1900 – leaves us with a couple of interesting spells regarding the wolf. The first of these concerns several other creatures as well:

The people repaired to the fields, glens, and corries to eat their quarter cakes. When eating them, they threw a piece over each shoulder alternately, saying: “Here to thee, wolf, spare my sheep; there to thee, fox, spare my lambs; here to thee, eagle, spare my goats; there to thee, raven, spare my kids; here to thee, marten, spare my fowls; there to thee, harrier, spare my chickens.”

Finally, we come upon “the Spell of Mary” which was used as protection against a very long list of impeding dooms, evils, mishaps and sorceries. Protection against the wolf is listed alongside many of the other more traditional forms of evil. Within this long list of worldly and otherworldly perils, a person also needed the protection:

Against incantations, against withering glance, Against inimical power. 
Against the teeth of wolf.
 Against the testicles of wolf[iii].

Dare we even ask? I guess, with the number of people running around in the form of a wolf in those days, one could never be too careful. If we’ve learned anything from Gilvaethwy and Gwydion it is this: wolves have needs too.

Celtic Werewolf

Eurasian wolf by Gunnar Ries Amphibol. 2009

[i] Celtic stories are often metaphoric. There’s a widespread belief that the original transcribers were sometimes recording knowledge that could only be fully understood by “a poet.”

[ii] Interestingly, when the king was possessed by the evil spirit he gorged himself on apples.

[iii] This is only a partial list.

Huathe (Hawthorn)

“The druids knew about many medicinal plants and were skilled fortune tellers… Furthermore, they preferred to teach their hand-selected pupils in the forest because they were convinced that the essentials of life could be learned from trees.” Franjo Terhart (Beyond Death)

The Roots:

Hawthorn is the first tree of the second aicme, group of five, in the Ogham.

Huathe, the hawthorn, is the tree of the otherworld. It is one of the three trees that make up the “fairy triad”, along with the ash and the oak. It is believed that the fairy realm can be directly accessed through this tree, especially when it is flowering and with greatest of ease at Beltane, which is the beginning of the light half of the year.

Huathe, hawthorn or whitethorn, is the tree of May, which is the month of chastity and restraint. So it is that the Otherworld can be accessed more easily by those who are pure of heart, which are those who can access a childlike nature of open mindedness and playfulness.

Many people associate Huathe with ill fortune and bad luck. It is a tree of great potential and has the power to unlock the mysteries of other kingdoms. It is more likely that the hawthorn has a nature that reeks of caution to the uninitiated than it is actually “bad luck”. It is still believed in many parts of the old country that chopping down a hawthorn will bring one ruin, as the protective spirits can be vindictive and vengeful. For this reason it is also a tree that is sometimes sought out by those who practice the darker arts.

Like the birch, the hawthorn’s meanings and associations are agreed upon to a large degree[i]. Its powers however seem to defy explanation and are left for the practitioner to experience for themselves, with a thinly veiled warning from those that have gone before.

The Trunk:

Ballyvadlea Ireland set the stage for a grim series of events in March of 1895. It had been reported to the local constabulary that Bridget Cleary, wife to Michael Cleary, was missing by a concerned friend. An inquiry became an investigation, which eventually revealed a burnt body in a shallow grave.

Nine people were initially charged for the murder while other people in the village were later revealed to have been aware of the events that had transpired, or to have been participants in the actual killing. This included Bridget’s husband, her father, her cousins, and her neighbours.

The motive for the crime-which is sometimes inaccurately described as the last witch burning of Ireland- was found to have been one in which the townsfolk believed that they were torturing a changeling (a shapeshifting fairy imposter) and were only trying to retrieve Bridget back from the fairies.

Michael Cleary is said to have stated that his wife was two inches too tall and much too fair or beautiful to have been her at all. The rest of the townsfolk seemed to agree in his assessment as they either participated in, or were accomplices to, the murder. Eventually Michael Cleary served 15 years for the killing.

The case at the time was highly political. The English used the murder as proof that the Irish could not govern themselves because of their whimsical and uncivilized beliefs. The murder became international news, is said to have influenced Gerald Gardner – the modern father of Wiccanism- and has since been the source of several books and movies[ii].

Fairy abduction has been reported in myth and legend since the earliest of times. A well documented case in 1646 was that of Anne Jefferies in St. Teath England. After her reported abduction – which she did not like to talk about- she apparently had the powers of clairvoyance, did not need to eat, and had the power to heal.

Thomas the Rhymer who lived from 1220-1298 in Scotland was also said to have disappeared for a time and to have returned with powers. This was later explained away as him having been with the fairies, most especially one which was his “fairy bride”. He became a noted bard and also had prophetic skills, even accurately predicting events such as the death of Alexander the 3rd.

Katherine Mary Briggs’ Encyclopedia of Fairies is a good place to start exploring the phenomena of fairy encounters. This well researched text references over one hundred books and historical documents and discusses the two cases above alongside many others. While there are many different theories as to the source of these encounters-from mental illness to communion with demons- Briggs suggests that fairies may be categorized as either “diminished gods or the dead”.

It is easy to dismiss these early encounters as fanciful and unlikely but the phenomenon continues to exist today only in an altered form. Alien abductions are believed to occur by many people. It is a common belief today that we are visited by beings from other planets for a variety of theorized reasons. Whatever one chooses to believe, whether it is a type of mental illness or a genuine phenomenon, perhaps the beings involved are one and the same.

The Anne Jefferies account of 1646 describes her being approached by small humanoids, a pricking sensation before everything went black, and a sensation of being taken through the air. When she awoke the humanoids were her size and a fight ensued between the being who wanted to keep her (with the red feather) and the others who decided she could not stay. When it was determined that she had to be returned there was a pricking sensation once more before darkness returned and she was brought back to the land of the living.

The fairies of Ireland are the Sidhe, or the Tuatha De Danann. The Tuatha De Danaan are often described as having arrived in “flying ships” to take Ireland by force from its previous owners the Fir Bolg. Ireland was then taken away from them by the ancestors of present Ireland, the Milesians, led by the great poet Amergin. The Tuatha De Danann went underground and became the Sidhe, or fairies.

Let us consider that many common UFO sightings describe lights that come out of mountaintops or sometimes even out of lakes. Whether or not we believe in the idea of aliens, fairies, or inter dimensional beings there are many mysteries from our past that seem to prohibit scepticism. Consider the following…

Construction by “stone tool” ancients of buildings we are still unable to reconstruct with today’s technologies. 1400 ton building blocks, precision cuts of blocks that even lasers cannot duplicate, structures that align perfectly with constellations, and various marvels across the globe. We are supposed to believe that these structures, such as the great pyramids, were constructed with stone tools before the invention of the wheel?[iii]

Even today there are crop circles found around the globe that self proclaimed hoaxers are unable to duplicate, scientists are unable to explain, and that continue to defy logic. Although the most common theory seems to be alien communication, some call these findings “fairy circles”[iv]. Perhaps, whatever they are, even if there is a simple psychological explanation, aliens and fairies are the same thing.

It is the hawthorn -and its association with the fairies- that makes us pause and consider these possibilities-and perhaps many more- during our symbolic journey.   

The hawthorn is also associated with the mythical goddess figure of Olwen who is found in the Mabinogion[v]. She is the daughter of Yspaddaden Penkawr, the chief giant hawthorn[vi]. It is said that her footprints produce white trefoil, or sometimes hawthorn flower petals, and that this is the origin of the Milky Way (Hageneder).    

Diminished gods, the dead, or something else altogether? 

The Foliage:

The wolf is often associated with the hawthorn. The Ogham Tract found in the Book of Ballymote says that a pack of wolves is like the thorns of the hawthorn. “A terror to anyone is a pack of wolves”.

Like the hawthorn and the fairy, the wolf is a creature that we cannot decide if we love or hate. In folklore and mythology it is either noble, or a menace. Like the alleged changeling of Bridget Cleary or the beautiful bride of Thomas the Rhymer the wolf is also seen as either a powerful enemy or a beneficial and otherworldly friend.

The hawthorn with her beautiful and mystical flower masks a thorn with wound inflicting capabilities. The fairy with its magical allure and gifts of power, also promises madness and even death.

The wolf offers us faithfulness, intuition, community, monogamy, strength, night vision, and the instinctual ability to hunt and to survive [vii]. It also can be viciously savage, steal livestock and has been known in times of hunger – although rare- to attack humans.

While it is easy to see anything as either good or bad the truth is that there is nothing in nature that is so black or white. The fears of our ancestors hunted the wolf to extinction in many places. The last wolf in Scotland was killed in 1743 and the wolf was killed out of fear to the point of being endangered-and sometimes extinct- in many parts of North America.

The reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone Park and the recolonization of wolves in Glacier Park has been closely monitored and studied by scientists. It has been observed that elk and coyote populations dropped as elk herds were forced to stay on the move and the coyote suddenly had a natural enemy, vegetation stabilized on shorelines, aspen and willow trees thrived, many insect eating birds returned, overhanging branches of stabilized trees fed trout-which returned-, eagles and ravens also flourished and beavers returned. The entire watershed became healthier in just a couple of decades all from the reintroduction of a single-often villainized- species[viii].

We cannot afford to minimize or glorify any species on our journey through the forest. A clear perception is needed, braided with a healthy dose of respect.

The fairy folk are seen as beautiful as they are terrible but perhaps they are something in between.

The wolf is wild, intelligent and free, yet it is the bringer of nightmares and often associated with evil. It is believed by the Nordic ancestors that the Fenris wolf, the devourer of worlds, will bring about the destruction of all there is.

The truth is that the wolf too is more likely to exist somewhere between the two extremes of good and evil.

The hawthorn, or Huathe, is the bringer both of good luck and of bad. Hawthorn is the beauty with the thorns. She reminds us that perceptions can shift, and that awareness- with a healthy dose of caution- can make her an ally, as opposed to a tree that should be feared by the weak of heart.

 “Marie-Louise Sjoestedt makes an important point in this regard, namely, that in the wilderness ‘the conditions of the mythological period still prevail’. These conditions include the close familiarity that humans, animals, and spirits enjoyed with each other. The wildwood bears the mark of the earliest paradisal stages of creation, hence the earliest mark of the Creator.” Tom Cowan (Fire in the Head)

 


[i] The exception may be Erynn Rowan Laurie who links the concepts of loneliness, misfortune, nightmares, war, anxiety and many others to Huathe. Laurie reminds us that behind challenge is growth, or opportunity, however. She relates the Ogham letters as concepts or energies – akin to the Norse runes- and not necessarily representative of particular trees which accounts largely for her differing interpretation of the huathe from Graves, Pennick, Liz and Colin Murray, Greer, Hageneder, Cooper, and Farmer-Knowles.

[ii] Rossell Robbin’s Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology. See also the archived New York Times article from October 2000 entitled the Fairy Defense by David McCullough http://www.nytimes.com/2000/10/08/books/the-fairy-defense.html

[iii] For references to the above statements, and one theory shared by some, see the documentary series Ancient Aliens on the History Channel. The series contains many thought provoking statements from various scientists and scholars that cannot be easily dismissed. It seems to lack counter arguments for many of the points discussed however.

[v] A well known collection of 11 medieval Welsh prose stories

[vi] Yspaddaden is often believed to be a corruption of Ysbydd, hawthorn.

[vii] The Druid Animal Oracle. Phillip and Stephanie Carr Gomm.

[viii] Most recently Mother Earth News June/July 2011