Faery ethics

Faery Ethics in Witchcraft

October, 2014

When the invading sons of Mil defeated the Tuatha de Danaan and the latter went into the land, controlling the fertility and weather of Eire, the conquerors submitted to the new powers of the conquered. Thereafter. dealings with the Sidhe, that is, the people of the mounds, had to be conducted in terms of the laws of that world. The world of Faery is just next door, but it differs from our own Middle-Earth in certain important ways. For one thing, the spoken word has much more power there. Though they are free to be tricksters, the fair folk are constrained to always tell the truth. There is no such thing as a white lie in Faery. Promises once made are always kept; once the spoken word goes out, it is always respected. A corollary of this is that forgiveness has no place in Faery; it is irrelevant in a cosmos where debts cannot be cancelled.

Witchcraft arose among people who wished to have dealings with this other dimension and its inhabitants. The spells of a witch must be cast in the astral realm, i.e., in Faery, to rebound thence into our own world. The energies of the spell go into the land and return to Middle-Earth by the same route the Sidhe take to fructify nature.

The need to align oneself with Faery ethics explains a lot of the fussiness of witchcraft. Everything must be done so that the spoken word, when used, will have optimum power. This would include observing periods of silence, settling differences with another covener before entering the circle, avoiding verbal commitments, and not repeating tales. On the positive side, the Celtic witch will on occasion undertake a geas (“gesh”) or vow. As Dodds observes in The Greeks and the Irrational, making a vow is like opening an account with reality.

In numerous folktales about fairies we see mortals making fatal blunders with the fair folk from ignorance of their values and the peculiar laws that govern their lives. These laws apparently belong to the Otherworld of Faery, the perilous realm in the dimension next door. Other accounts of these neighboring continua say similar things about conditions there. A knowledge of those conditions is important for those who would have dealings with the fair folk or who work with Otherworld energies, as witches and magicians do.

What is most manifest about the laws governing fairies is that words have power. To discover the true, secret name of a being is to have power over it. Vows taken must be fulfilled or the vow will pursue the perjurer to the death. A truthful answer must always be made to a direct question, though in some circumstances it is permissible to trick, so long as you do so without actually lying. In general, decisions once taken are irrevocable.

These conditions go some way towards explaining the secretive and furtive nature of fairies, and their reluctance to have dealings with us. But if we will submit to their laws as much as we can, we may attract their favor. They like to visit if the atmosphere is congenial.

The witch or wizard, therefore, will begin by imitating the fairies in various ways. For instance, as they tend to be taciturn, so the witch will be sparing of conversation. As they go and come at their pleasure and tend to be elusive, so the witch will stop giving an account of her doings to others.
Because the fairies are constrained to keep promises, a witch will endeavor to keep them also, while being sparing of making them.

These practices will lend power to the speech of the witch, as words will carry greater weight with her. If we observe the rule to either tell the truth or remain silent, our words in circle will have power, and we may even attract the notice of a fairy.