“The kingdom, fearing attack from their enemies across the sea, took the fairy flag out of the chest high in one of the towers. It had not been flown since the days of her grandmother’s grandmother, but everyone knew that it was a powerful gift. If they flew it from the rampants during their time of greatest danger, a magical mist would engulf the kingdom and save their people.”
I first encountered Manannán mac Lir and his amazing cloak, the féth fiada, as a very young child. It was in a book, one that is probably still in my parents’ house somewhere. The author took Manannán’s legendary protection of the Isle of Man and wrote a child-friendly (and Christian-friendly) version where Manannán became a fairy king and the royal family of the island had a fairy flag to signal their distress to him.
I grew up in an Irish diaspora family, one that maintained a cultural identity in America. It meant that when I was a child, in addition to Grimm and Aesop, I had several collections of Irish children’s stories. As my parents are very literary types, we had the Oscar Wilde and Yeats. I treasured my copy of Coker’s Fairy Legends and my my mother’s Lady Augusta Gregory.
Somewhere along the way, I must have dug my way into Manx works and fairy tales because some of my more idiosyncratic mythos – such as Lugh being fostered by Manannán mac Lir rather than Tailtu – match up nicely with the Manx tradition, rather than the Irish translations I’ve read. Certainly the fairy tale I paraphrased up top is closely mirrored in Sophia Morrison’s “Manx Fairy Tales.”
My family, too, preserved folklore among ourselves in ways that are only apparent to me now, living hundreds of miles away and outside of that specific community. I have a distinct, happy memory of being six or seven years old, running through tall grass in the woods, shrieking my little head off as I chased my brother. And my mother laughed, telling me that I sounded like a banshee. And even at that young age, I knew what a bean sidhe is and why she wails.
I still retain my heritage and hold onto my childhood, my family, and my understanding of the world by embracing these things. The stories of Lugh and Manannán mac Lir and Clidna and Brigit were familiar to me long before I started down a pagan or polytheistic pathway. They are stories from my childhood, as much a part of my life as any other aspect of my culture.
Of course, I can treat them differently now, more as religion than folklore but perhaps no less spiritual. But it is how I am looking at something that was already a part of my culture, a part of my life, and a part of me. Just because I am engaging with it differently doesn’t actually make it different and that’s a very important part of my spiritual practice. I am approaching them differently but they haven’t changed.
They’ve always been here.