My “Fae/Faer” rant

[Edit notes: Since this is turning out to be my most viewed post I’ve expanded the orginal post to include additional sources. This is a very, very long rant so if your eyes start to glaze over somewhere in the middle the TL:DR is a rando kid (previously) on Twitter and Instagram put forward the claim that using “fae/faer pronouns is cultural appropriation” and they dropped zero native sources, didn’t credit any native sources, and their examples look like Urban Fantasy novel “Celtic hodgepodge” lore. I asked. I looked all up and down their link-tree before they privatized their IG and deleted their Twitter account. Nothing. So, going only by what was saved on @AphobeHottakes this is my counter argument as someone of “Celtic” decent and the post explains why “Celtic” is a problematic word to use when talking about cultural appropriation. Post last updated 7/31/21]

My internet said “f u” so I will be composing this rant from the mobile app which means there will be a lot of grammar issues. I’d like to apologize in advanced.

So! It has come up a few times on Twitter (because Twitter is a trashfire and the “Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory” applies) that the pronouns fae/faer are “cultural/religious appropriation” and if you can’t tell that’s just transphobic/enbyphobic/queerphobic nonsense at first glance I will be more than happy to go into greater detail of why it’s actual horse shit.

Some background context: there’s this ace kid who is fairly well known in the inclusionist/exclusionists debate. [For those not caught up on Twitter drama, the separatist movements have been rebranded as “exclusionists”. Exclusionists are people who typically believe that the acronym is only “LG(B)(T)” Sometimes they include the B and the T, but sometimes they’re masks off cis gay/lesbian separatists. The opposition has been branded as “radical inclusionists”. Inclusionists are typically people who believe “queer” is slur that can be reclaimed by the whole community, not just gays and lesbians, that queer is a valid idenity label, and that asexuals, aromantics, neo-pronouns and xenogenders are all valid means of identifying within the LGBTQIA+ community.] Anywho, this rando ace kid made something of a name for themself making [the now deleted] Instagram posts that are literally the worst text-on-Background designs possible so the posts are barely even readable and using “scientific references” to support exclusionist/separatist talking points.

Background: This is Why I Rant

Some of their more outlandish claims include, rather infamously, that “lesbian isn’t a sexuality” and that using “Fae/Faer pronouns is cultural appropriation”:

Obviously the lesbian thing is not my wheelhouse. I’m not a lesbian and I didn’t get the opportunity to take any queer studies classes in college. The fae/faer thing that they linked earlier in the thread, however, I am more than happy to break down.

Twitter screenshot: “Is there another pronoun? Some people have a hard time using it because of its links to cultural appropriation”
Instagram screenshot: “Fae/Faer and religious appropriation”

I’m adhering to @Aphobehottakes’s censorship policy of blocking the @’s and usernames because most of the time these kinds of posts are made by random kids on the internet doubling down on badly recycled shitpost logic and not public figures. If public shaming actually worked, the 2016 US presidential election would have gone very differently.

Instagram screenshot: “It is important to note that these ARE people’s beliefs. They deserve to be respected. Any disrespectful comments will be deleted”

This intro slide definitely rubs me the wrong way because throughout this entire slideshow there’s not a single reference to a native source. They just keep waving hands and vaguely referring to “people’s beliefs” without dropping who they are specifically talking about or what specific beliefs. The Irish Pegan School literally has a free intro class, so if I wanted to educate someone I thought was appropriating “Celtic beliefs” my first instinct would be to redirect them to native sources that I know about and I trust because this isn’t a topic you could fully understand and appreciate after just a five minute Google search.

Instagram comment Screenshot: “it has been confirmed by multiple natives that it is CA because the fae are included in their cultures as well”

The Long Language Tangent

First and foremost I need to get the long-ass language thing out of the way. “Faerie” is the Latinate word, meaning it entered the English vernacular through Norman French. Celtic languages are a whole ass different language family. The Irish language equivalent(ish because translation is never 1:1) thing to the English word “fairy” is aos sí [pronounced something like “eesh shee”]. Which brings us neatly to our next problem, “Celtic”. The word Celtic is a modern invention used as an umbrella term to describe tribes of people from the Bonze and/or Iron Ages (skipping the tangent about how those terms are relative and vary by region) that shared similar family structures, artifact styles, language family, and religious and war practices.

Email screenshot: “The term Celtic is just a scholarly descriptor, when used correctly, to talk about Indo-European tribes who were grouped together (by outside observers) based on ethnoliguistic similarities”
Email screenshot: Irish Pegan School subscription email with resource link

I’ve been on the Irish Pegan School’s email list for a little over a year now after hearing about it at scifi/fantasy (which is its own tangent in this rant) convention in Dublin which is why I’m really fustrated that after I saved up the money to go and try and connect to and celebrate my Irish heritage some rando kid on the internet can’t even be assed to drop a link to credit/support who they’re supposedly defending. Or like, use the correct terminology. The OP is using green slides so I’m drawing some conclusions from that. Anyway, in addition to blogs and email subscriptions (which are FREE sources by the way) there are two lecture series that are available through a 7 day FREE trial on Amazon Prime or check your local library because “The Celtic Revival” is an interesting topic that I really, really dont have time to break down right now:

Since “Celtic” is an umbrella term you can’t just mix and match who you’re talking about. As someone who is both of Irish and of Welsh decent let me tell you those are definitely two very different culture things starting with different languages on different branches of the Celtic language family tree.

Irish: Tá m’árthach foluaineach lán d’eascanna.

Welsh: Mae fy hofrenfad yn llawn llyswennod.

Yes, these examples are from omniglot because I don’t speak any Irish (even though it’s actually more “regular” than English). I know more Cymraeg (Welsh) than I do Spanish and can actually read the above sentence with some reasonable confidence, but any current attempts on my part to hold a conversation would look more like a Monty Python sketch especially since “My hovercraft is full of eels” is what the examples above translate to in English.

My Welsh-English dictionary

I totally recommend taking the time to do some additional reading because these are living languages that people actually speak and and produce media in.

Stop Paraphrasing Holy Black

Alrighty, I had to get the long-ass language tangent out of the way because that detail alone tells me that the OP didn’t actually consult native sources because even the wikipedia page uses the native terminology.

Instagram screenshot: “The Fae are apart of many belief systems stemming from Celtic beliefs. There are mostly

……………I mean this in complete utter seriousness, did they just read Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales trilogy and call it a day??? I just need a moment to find where I- ah ha! Here it is. A Treasury of Irish Myth, Legend and Folklore that I just happen to have on hand because I’ve been researching this stuff off and on for 15 years now.

Who are they? ‘Fallen Angels who are not good enough to be saved, nor bad enough to be lost,’ say the peasantry. ‘The gods of the earth,’ says the Book of Armagh. ‘The gods of pegan Ireland,’ say the Irish antiquarians, ‘the Tuatha De Danān, who, when no longer worshiped and fed with offerings, dwindled away in the popular imagination, and are now only a few spans high.’

Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, “The Trooping Fairies”

Up the ary mountain/Down the rushy glen,/We daren’t go a-hunting/For fear of little men;/Wee folk, good folk,/Trooping all together;/Green jacket, red cap/And white owl’s feather!

The Fairies by William Allingham

Short language tangent (sorry it’s kind if my go-to thing): I’m pretty sure that “seelie” is the anglicized form of the Scottish Gaelic “sìth“. Occam’s razor whatever it’s probably not all that deep. However, “seelie” could have originated from the Nordic influence because some morphologists think it’s related to Old English sǣl and gesǣlig meaning “happy” or “blessed” which is also the root word we get modern “silly” from.

Scotland, where the Seelie/Unseelie lore comes from, has three(ish) languages; Gaelic, English (obviously), and Scots which hands down has some of the most beautiful poetry I’ve ever heard. Think English with more Nordic influence (“viking” is a profession, not an ethnic group) and less obviously-borrowed-from-Norman-French. Gaelic gets a lot of praise for being almost supernaturally pretty, but I personally have a soft spot for Scots. I’m actually waaay behind on Scottish fairy lore (because they have some terrifying stories that keep me up at night), but I would like to know how much Scottish lore was borrowed from Nordic traditions that would set it apart from Irish and Welsh lore. There’s a slim possibility that the Seelie/Unseelie, sometimes referred to by modern fantasy authors as the Night Court and the Bright Court, is actually a Nordic import because it’s weirdly similar to the light elves vs dark elves from Norse mythology. As I’m not familiar with actual Scottish lore, I’m more inclined to believe the noticable similarities between Scottish and Nordic are a modern invention by fantasy and uban fantasy authors (because Tolkien).

The first time I had ever heard of the “Court” lore was Holly Black’s young adult series (which is why I’m really questioning the OP’s source material) because it’s NOT present in Irish and Welsh lore. “Trooping” and “solidarity” are the words I keep seeing pop up in Irish folklore. Funny enough the court thing also pops up in the Dresden Files TV series with vampires. I figure by this point the court trope is just something floating around in the popular consciousness because you have diametrically opposed groups in a lot of world mythologies. Olympians vs the Titans (Greek) and Asuras vs Devas (Hindu) would be my go-to examples, but an Irish example might be the Tuatha De Danān (mentioned earlier in the quoted passage) and the Fomhóire. Except it’s complicated. It’s time for another tangent:

So, here’s the thing. You can’t talk about Celtic Mythology (Irish, Scottish, Welsh, etc…) without addressing the elephant in the room: Christianity. I need everyone to understand how fucking long Christianity has been in the British Isles. Since the time of the Romans.

Christianity has been doing its thing in England before the English language was even a thing which is why I get nit-picky about people try calling dibs on a diminutive of an English word (see: The Long Language Tangent). Also “fay” of various spellings is used as a girl’s name in the US as a diminutive of “faith”.

So, here’s the problem. We know a lot about Greek mythology because they, after many many years of maintaining a rich oral tradition, wrote it down. We know a lot about Egyptian mythology because they wrote it down. We know a lot about Hindu mythology because they wrote it down. We know a lot a Roman mythology because, once again, they wrote it down. Do you want to guess who wrote down everything we know about Irish Mythology? Christian monk scribes literally hundreds of years after the region had been christianized.

I just so happen to have a copy of Ireland’s mythological cycle, Lebor Gabála Érenn: The Book of the Taking of Ireland, on hand (once again 15 years of on and off research) and right here in the introduction the editor has side by side the Old Testament verse the scribes copypasted into the Lebor Gabála:

Old Testament:

Shem is selected and his genealogy is followed out…until we reach Terah and his son Abram, upon whose family the historian specializes down to the two wives and the nunerous sons of Jacob.

A servitude in Egypt begins with a friendly invitation from an Egyptian king…and the children of Israel are delivered by the adopted son of an Egyptian princess.

.

Lebor Gabála:

Jephet is selected and his genealogy is followed out…until we reach Nēl and his son Gāedel, upon whose family the historian specializes…down to the two wives and the numerous sons of Mīl. An oppression in Egypt begins with a friendly invitation from an Egyptian king…and the children of Nēl are delivered by the son-in-law of the Egyptian king

Lebor Gabála Érenn: The Book of the Taking of Ireland Vol 1,

What neo-pagans and traditionalists have to do is very carefully review the surviving texts and try to carefully peel back the Christian influences (or synthesize the two because merging native and Christian is also traditional) and make educated guesses on what the orginal pegan traditions might have looked like and adapt it to a modern, living tradition.

Instagram screenshot: “They are also known foe kidnapping infants and swapping them out for changlings”

…seriously? Out of all the super specific examples of fairy lore you pick changeling? This kid is just literally pulling examples from the Holy Black series. First of all, changelings or changeling-like lore is actually pretty universal across Europe, not just the “Celtic” cultures, and was probably talking about disabled children. Yikes.

“Celtic” Hodgepodge SciFi/Fantasy

Instagram screenshot: “Witches and those who work with the fae have told me…”

Who told you? I can’t stress enough how irritating it is that there are ZERO name drops or citations and they’re just being really, super vague about what “practices” they’re referring to.

Instagram screenshot: “we should opt to respect people’s religions”

The thing that pissed me off (hense the long ass rant) is this person is using someone else’s religion as a PROP for their transphobia. It’s actually glaringly obvious to me that they didn’t actually contact native sources because they’re not using native terms or titles when refering to practitioners of Irish or Scottish peganism. They totally could have spared a slide to credit some of these witches they spoke to. Even wikipedia spells out some of the native terminology so I have no flipping idea what sources they’re even getting their information from because they’re being so vague about it that as far as I can tell, it’s just pop culture references. Cue the next long-ass tangent about what I like to call “Celtic hodgepodge”:

Urban fantasy writers, or rather fantasy writers in general, do the hodgepodge “celtic lore” thing all the time. The two most recent examples of Celtic hodgepodge I’ve seen just in passing were a King Arthur film and an urban fantasy novel not written by Holly Black, but it doesn’t really matter because they all do it because “Celtic” lore takes more than a five minute Google search.

I didn’t even finish the film because I thought it was terrible in general. The film is in that weird, gritty psudo-historically accurate genre that was a thing for a while. Anywho, the film took Merlin’s orgin story, which is believed to be Cornish (or Welsh depending on who you talk to because they both called dibbs) orgin, and then name dropped the Tuatha de Danān in the story like Cornwall didn’t have its own pantheon for the local pagans to worship and call upon to root out the “new” religion (i.e Christianity). That writing decision gave me whiplash. I was much more forgiving of the Urban fantasy novel because 1) it was better written and 2) the Celtic hodgepodge was at least on the same branch of the Celtic language family tree. The novel used the Seelie/Unseely terminology, which we’ve already established as NOT Irish, instead of trooping/solitary, but parts of the story take place in Ireland and the fae characters drop Irish terms of endearment (that the author clearly pulled from a five minute Google search). Although name dropping the Seelie/Unseelie is fast becoming my personal pet peeve, realistically the casual reader isn’t going to notice or care. It’s fiiiiine, I guess. Writers gotta eat and all that.

But as usual, Welsh lore doesn’t even get a footnote even in urban fantasy which is soooo not fair. My main point is that a five minute Google search isn’t going to cut it because “Celtic beliefs” are widely misunderstood and there’s a lot of pop culture osmosis happening. In my opinion, I think it’s very shallow and and ignorant that the slideshow OP chose fae/faer as their soapbox topic without doing the necessary deep dive this topic requires. Also, for someone soooo freaking worried about people offending the Fae by taking their name in vain, they sure use that word a lot in their own powerpoint about not using it. Just saying.

Cite Your Sources Dammit

One of the teachers at the Irish Pegan School actually addresses what she considers to be cultural appropriation: 1) using for monetary gain, 2) teaching at the expense of native teachers and 3) using it for clout and the original poster behind the the instagram slides was doing ALL of that. They built a mini brand off of their Instagram and then used it advertise art they had for sale. They picked a contraversal topic that acted a jucy clickbait and then they failed to cite a single native source. While accusing people using fae/faer pronouns of cultural appropriation they’ve literally done the thing they’re accusing other people of doing!!! The hypocrisy of it just blows my mind!

It seems like people in general are so freaking quick to jump in willynilly and talk about cultural appropriation like, for example, jump in and talk about problematic costumes on Holloween without addressing that Holloween itself is culturally appropriated from “Celtic” paganism. How do you even begin to address that without consulting native sources? Are you just going to demand millions of people to stop dressing up on Oct 31st? Are you going to boycott Holloween themed Mexican candy because this “corporate holiday” is slowly erasing other culturally significant holidays? Is that really your “activism” for the day? Should we talk about these things? Yeah, probably but omg it’s definitely going to take more than a five minute Google search and it would definitely help if you actually cited native sources, as in link, credit, name drop and not just vaguely wave hands.

Final Thoughts

Instagram screenshot: “Here are some pronouns with a similar feel”

This last slide is incredibly annoying and hurts my brain. You can’t put a freaking trademark on a basic syllable like /feɪ/ support your bias. It’s an undefendable argument.

Screenshot of Merriam-webster online dictionary entry for “fae”: archaic Scottish for “foe”

I will give them this, messing with fairies is serious business in Ireland. On my trip last year I picked up two fairy stories that are my new favorites. The fairy tree that detoured a motorway. And the reason why the delorean car was featured in the Back to the Future movie franchise, but you’ll never see one driving down the highway.

The only reason fae/faer is a even a debate at any given time is because trans and nonbinary people are easy targets compared to the entire fantasy genre. As of the time of this latest edit they’ve retracted their stance (i.e. deleted their IG and Twitter account which totally counts in my book) and have hopefully moved on to more personally fulfilling hobbies and interests. It’s sad because they clearly spent a lot of time and effort on their IG slides only for it to be all for nothing the end.

And that’s pretty much it. That’s the rant. Kudos if you made it all the way to the end. Before you leave: Word of caution regarding sources. With regards to public domain (meaning you can absolutely find free to read digital copies or free audio versions on youtube) sources, William Butler Yeats is a fantastic fiction writer, i.e. entertaining (which is why I used a quote from his book), but not a good source. Lady Gregory is known as a folklorist, but had a tendency to editorialize to make her work more palatable to her audience. Both of these folks are Anglo-Irish, not native Irish. That’s something you need to watch out for when looking for sources. Someone suggested Lady Wilde as in Oscar Wilde’s mom as a good source if you want to get started. I highly recommend starting off with The Mabinogion because unlike the Lebor Gabála Érenn (which was recorded in Latin because Christian Monk scribes), it was written in Welsh. Like, I’m literally begging here, please please any aspiring fantasy writers- Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany are right there. I think it’s time to show the P-Celtic languages some love. I totally get that Gaelic is pretty and “fae-like”, but there is just sooo much more to this rabbithole than just Seelie and Unseelie Tolkien-esque elf looking fae. Your word counts will thank you.

3 thoughts on “My “Fae/Faer” rant

  1. Iris

    I don’t want to leave hate or anything, I just would like to share my opinion. I actually do speak irish! And my whole family is from Ireland. I am not disputing that there are other mythologies from around the world that feature sídh-like beings, but they really are all their own thing. They all deserve respect and recognition! I don’t think they should all be clumped under “faerie”. Obviously that person’s entire post was BS and like…wtf but I do think it is a bit disrespectful to call yourself something that is very prevalent in someone else’s beliefs. And it is pretty disrespectful to the Irish Sídh. I can’t speak for other cultures, but I know that I wouldn’t be comfortable calling someone those pronouns. I will respect anyone’s pronouns as long as they aren’t disrespecting my ancestors. My culture had already been oppressed so much, and it should get respect. I also know the Irish pagan school and I have never heard either Laura or Jon say that it was okay to use those pronouns.

    Like

  2. Jax -they/them

    As someone who is Wiccan and works with the Fae, In my opinion; using the pronouns Fae/Fairs or any variation is not harmful or CA, It takes a long time for certain people to find pronouns they’re comfortable with. I fully support my own religion /and/ peoples choice of pronouns. ❤ Please don't purposefully misgender anyone. It is a hate-crime. Its not cool. Thank you ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jackson Bullop

    this is the dumbest thing i have read from an enbyphobe. your thinly veiled misia is embarrassing as well as the other stupid person commenting about the Fae. The Fae do not give a flying fuck what pronouns you use. You colonizers erased your own cultures(see Norway and the Celts) only to scramble to find it again. Now look, you’re trying to be hateful. Get a life

    Like

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