Tag Archives: Liz Weir

Fairy Folk and Family History

A couple of local gents are drinking a pint in a pub near Cushendall, County Antrim, one evening when a redhead comes through the door. “Ah, there’s that Liz Weir who believes in fairies,” one says.

Weir, an Irish storyteller with an international reputation, stops. “And you don’t?”

He smiles and shakes his head.

“So now, tell me, will you be cutting down that fairy tree on your place any time soon?” She means an old Hawthorne growing inconveniently in the middle of one of his fields.

He turns back to his pint.

“Why not, may I ask?”

He shifts in his seat. “Bad luck.”

Weir likes to tell that story because she’s not bashful about leaving the fairy folk alone. She won’t walk on Tiveragh, a well-known fairy hill, day or night, and, because we happen to be chatting on an April afternoon, she reminds me that May Eve (April 30) is coming. I should avoid all dairy that day because it will sour. She also advises that I plant primrose around my newly remodeled house to keep the fairies away and never throw water out the door for fear of drenching one of the little folk and making him/her angry. Before building, I’m to place a brick at each corner of the new structure. If next morning, the bricks are still in place, I can build. If one is knocked out of place, I’d be advised to build somewhere else.

Every one of my grandmothers gave me similar advice. Sophia, the no-nonsense founder of the family ranch, left drops of water in teacups to keep the fairy folk happy. She thought it made good sense. Since nobody has enough good luck, why risk bad? Likewise Weir is one of the most sensible people I know, computer savvy, widely traveled, a former librarian, who simply chooses to acknowledge what most of us try to ignore—the fact that things are not always what they seem. She’s not alone. Witness how casually we talk about Karma, practice Feng Shui, and bury St. Joseph statues upside down in the backyard.

When the poet W.B. Yeats traveled through the Irish countryside in the late 1800s, looking for stories of the fairy folk, he titled his resulting book, The Celtic Twight. When Eddie Lenihan traveled the same areas in the late 1900s also looking for old stories, he found a tradition as lively as ever. His book, Meeting the Other Crowd, begins by wondering if another book on Irish fairies is really necessary and never expresses any concern that the fairies will go away any time soon. Of course, his fairies aren’t fey. They are described as dangerous, a source of taboos, and otherworldly enchantments, that sound closer to alien abductions than Disney films. He prefers not to mess with the fairy folk and, evidently, you don’t want to mess with Lenihan. He got an Irish highway routed around a fairy tree.

Like Lenihan, Weir doesn’t worry that the fairy folk will disappear. They have the gall to exist even when we don’t believe in them. Instead she worries that folklore worldwide will be dumbed down by mass media. Among other things, I suspect she means—pan flutes. Last time I was in Sedona, Arizona, every tourist shop had flute music playing the in background. Same music in similar shops all over Dingle Penninsula in Ireland. Here’s the point, if you decide to look for your family stories, expect the trolls, fairies, and talking animals to tag along. The fairy folk are everywhere. We disguise them as children’s stories, laugh them off as nonsense, but, like the old gents in the Cushendall pub, we know better.

Keep in mind that encounters with the magical world does not mean going for easy solutions. A wave of the magic wand can conjure as much trouble as help. The charm of these stories is that they often focus on the youngest child or the smallest animal. Clever wins the day. Evil is not defeated. It’s tripped up, tricked, outwitted, making it something less feared than fooled.

Likewise, don’t let that simplicity fool you. The fact that you find these stories mixed in with the family stories regardless of family origin or cultural traditions suggests something psychologically deep. Stories old enough to have mingled with the fairy folk require a different attitude. Slow down, take a deep breath, open your imagination, and close your eyes. Remember, nobody asked you to go looking for old stories. You went anyway. Dug around, and, when the dead rise to be kissed, don’t back away. You can’t claim you didn’t know how deep the roots went. This is old memory, soul talk, the awakening of inner rhythms. This is the long ago and far away land of repeated dreams, songs that linger, footsteps we don’t expect but recognize.  I have a friend who introduced me to Trouble Trolls. When they knock, you don’t hide behind the door, you open wide, invite them in and dance with them. They’ll never be your friends but they might like the music and they could have gifts wrapped in their gnarled fists. Every story is wet like that with symbol—folklore even more so.

Even so, Mark A. Finlayson, doing research on artificial intelligence at MIT, believes that stories allow us to communicate complex ideas on a low bandwidth, which is why they work so well for children. Also why we never out grow them. Consider the complexity of modern parents who pay for two eggs and hire two surrogates to gestate two children at the same time so they will be like twins, but not really. How do you explain that to the children? According to NY Times Magazine (1/2/2011) you call them “twiblings” and invent a fairytale: Once, there was a couple who wanted to have babies. They tried and tried, but no babies arrive, and they were very sad. But then a Fairy Goddonor brought them some magical eggs . . ..

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Filed under fairytale, Family history, Fantasy, Old Storytelling Traditions, The Little Folk

Stories Used To Be An Event! Still are?

Native American Storyteller

Native American Storyteller

Some Native American cultures saved storytelling for the winter months when people had time to gather together, repeat myths, share histories and create a common cultural bond. It was an event; something to look forward to. In my town, the only thing that comes close is when children gather for Story Hour at the public library or when Irish storyteller, Liz Weir, makes her annual appearance in Boulder.

Aditi Worcester, a video biographer, makes a similar observation about photographs in her blog http://savetheirstory.blogspot.com.

“My favorite picture is of my mother in Kashmir. It’s black and white… though everything looks rather white because of the snow. She’s wearing an oversized, black trenchcoat sort of thing… and smiling, well, half-smiling into the camera. Or rather at my father, who was taking the picture. It had been so cold that day that the guide who was taking my parents on a tour of the city offered his jacket to my mother to keep her warm. This demonstrated two things to me.
A). Locals don’t feel cold. And
B). Chivalry wasn’t dead 25 years ago.

But it’s my favorite picture. Whether it’s because of the story behind it, or because it was taken in a place I haven’t been to, or because it was a snapshot of my parents, young and in love… I don’t know.

My parents tell me that when they were growing up, taking pictures was an event. One you made appointments for, dressed up, and posed for, with your eyes deliberately looking elsewhere… for the effect of seriousness perhaps? Or gravity?”

Do we take too many photos today?  I took seven hundred photos on a recent week vacation.  These days, that’s not hard to do. The problem is editing them into something meaningful. That’s also the problem with video. My phone will capture the action, but, with rare exceptions, that’s not enough. The action needs to be shaped into something worthwhile–the work Aditi Worcester has taken on with her video biography project.

Stories need a storyteller.

Glass PosterAnd when we meet a master, we pause, we listen, we make it an event. Try Scott Hicks understated documentary, Glass: A Portrait in Twelve Parts

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Filed under Event, Family Stories, History, Old Storytelling Traditions, stories, Uncategorized, Video Story

2009 Conference on World Affairs

100 speakers, 200 panels, 5 days, the 61st annual Conference on World Affairs offered some great quotes about story.

No one ever marched on Washington because of a pie chart. You need a good story.

—Terry McNally (radio commentator)

You need to know where you came from to know who you are. Ask your family for the stories.

–Liz Weir (Irish storyteller Boom Chicka Boom)

We need a poetic response to reality.

–Peter Thabit Jones (Welsh poet The Lizard Catchers)

Like an open road, stories will take you where you want to go.

–Teresa Jordan (writer Riding the White Horse Home)

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Filed under Event, Family Stories, stories, Story Quote

The Little Folk–Fairies

“If you don’t believe in fairies, you’re not Irish.”

–Liz Weir, storyteller

Fairy

Fairy

 

“When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about and that was the beginning of fairies”

–JM Barrie, author of Peter Pan

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Filed under Fantasy, The Little Folk, Uncategorized