An Encounter with Aos Sí, the Faerie Folk
I have straddled the boundary between what I know and what I don’t know, what is known and what can’t be known, all my life. All I can certain of is what is happening right now in this moment, in my body, in my life. And even that I’m not certain about. I’ve been trained to perceive some things and ignore others. Though my body seems to me to be solid and constant, though I act as if it is and count on that to be so, I know it’s actually composed of millions of particles in constant motion, perpetually rearranging themselves.
Thinking about what’s uncertain makes me queasy, vertiginous. I take a breath. My chest, my belly expands and contracts.
And yet… over and over in my life I have walked right up to the boundary of what seems certain and stepped over it. Stumbled, fallen over it. Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole and landing in a strange country where nothing she knew made sense.
In October, 2016, I ended an eventful trip to Ireland with a journey to Dunfanaghy, a lovely town on the northwestern coast of County Donegal, right next to Northern Ireland but part of the Republic. A boundary between countries, between land and sea, between realms, as I found out. After I arrived at the Corcreggan Mill House, settled in, and finished off a hearty bowl of lamb stew, the owner, Brendan Rohan, a muscular, ex-military Scots-Irish man who rebuilt and updated the old stone mill, talked with me about the place, as he loves to do. It was just dusk, and he suggested I go sit at a place where I might encounter the faerie folk.
With some trepidation, I walked across a field, through a trellised gateway, along a stream, across a wooden bridge, to a little cave-like space against a rock wall. Above, a wooden structure, completely overgrown by vines, kept the rain out. A wooden bench invited me to sit.
I felt the presence of aos sí, the Shining Ones, the respectful Irish name for those who live in the Otherworld. How did I feel them? It was like a magnetic pull into the rock itself.
I was afraid. I’ve heard and read the stories about being seduced or kidnapped and brought into the faery world, never to return. I realized that this fear belonged to my Irish ancestors, who lived at a time when the old ways of the Irish were being viciously suppressed.
In darkness, I said, “I give back my fear of aos sí to my ancestors.”
Suddenly I entered a realm filled with beings so filled with light that I had to wear a kind of sunglasses to be among them. They welcomed me with love and joy. This connection, this heartfelt reunion, unfolded over the two days I was there, during the day, at dusk, in the middle of the night. I gave myself space to question, to doubt, to be unsure.
Aos sí told me that my body has human ancestors, and my soul has ancestors among them as well. The human realm and their realm are connected in me, in us. How this was true was beyond me. They told me they had always been with me. I can have access to their world, and they to mine, at any time.
“What can I offer you?” I asked.
“In your life and work, create more connections between our worlds. Nothing else.”
To write about this encounter invites disbelief, but to hold it back feels like staying in a cave whose door is blocked by a large stone. Making the experience public feels like walking out into sunlight.
I welcome this emerging, mysterious relationship with beings I can never fully understand. They are our ancient relatives, and we need each other, particularly at this time of grave peril in the world.
In the fall of 2016, a group of us traveled together in the Republic of Ireland before my solo trip to Northern Ireland. The new anthology Sacred Stone, Sacred Water: Women Writers and Artists Encounter Ireland contains poetry, prose, art, and photos from our trip. For more information about the book and upcoming readings in the Pacific Northwest, click here.