Chapter 5 – Aoibheall

Apr 24th, 2018 | By | Category: Articles, Fairy Queens, Morgan Daimler

the Fairy Woods by Henry Meynell Rheam, 1903, public domain

The next named Fairy Queen we’re going to look at is Aoibheall, who is also found in the southwest of Ireland like Áine. She is a more obscure Fairy Queen but her folklore goes back to at least the 11th century. She is found in Clare and some of the surrounding areas, and like so many other Fairy Queens in Ireland also has a reputation as a Bean Sí [banshee] and is known to interfere in human issues for both good and ill.

Her name is from the Old Irish word oibell for ‘spark, flame, heat’ and as an adjective means ‘bright or merry’. There are many variants of the spelling of her name including Aoibhell, Aoibhil, Aíbell, Aebill, Eevell, and Ibhell; it is pronounced roughly ‘EEval’. By some accounts her name was once Aoibheann [EEvan], which is said to mean beautiful or lovely, from the Old Irish oíbhan ‘little beauty’ (MacKillop, 1996). Understanding the meaning of her name gives us the first clue as to her nature and temperament.

She is not found named among the lists of the Tuatha Dé Danann, but we may perhaps see a connection there as by some accounts her sister is Clíona, and while folklore does not tell us about Aoibheall’s parentage we do know that Clíona’s father was Gabann, a druid of Manannán mac Lir. The two are also rivals, specifically over the affections of a man named Caomh; because of this rivalry at one point Clíona turned Aoibheall into a white cat.

In folklore Aoibheall is said to have control over the weather and she possesses a magical harp whose music kills those who hear it. Her harp may be why she is considered by some in more recent folklore to be an omen of death.

She was likely originally a territory and sovereignty goddess of Clare, associated with mortal kingship and succession, and is later known as a fairy queen and bean sí. Her sí is at Craig Liath [Craglea] which is also called Craig Aoibheall [Crageevel] (MacKillop, 1996). Nearby there is a well associated with her called Tobhar Aoibill. Her presence is connected to the area of Slieve Bearnagh and more generally around Killaloe. One later bit of folklore says that Aoibheall left the area after the wood around Craig Laith was cut down. She is often called the Fairy Queen of Tuamhain [Thomond] which was a historic territory of the Dál cCais that is now modern-day Clare, Limerick, and some of Tipperary.

She is known as the protector of the Dál gCais, and so the O’Briens, and she is called both their bean sí and the banfáidh ó mBriain [prophetess or seeress of the O’Brien’s]. It is said that she appeared to Brain Boru in 1014 the night before the battle of Clontarf and predicted his death as well as who his successor would be; she was also said to be the lover of one of his sons Donnchadh although other accounts suggest her lover was Dubhlaing the attendant of his eldest son (O hOgain, 2006; MacKillop, 1996). According to folklore she tried to keep her lover, Donnchadh or Dubhlaing, from the battle by misleading him with a magical mist (Dinneen, 1900; O hOgain, 2006).

She appears as the judge in Merriman’s 18th century poem An Cuirt an Mhéan Oíche, hearing the complaint of women that men do them wrong in not marrying them and taking advantage of them. In that poem she is called “the truthful” and “all-seeing”. She sides with the women, ruling that men must marry by 21 or are open to women’s reprisals. In a poem by Aodhagháin Uí Rathaillle Aoibheall is one of three fairy women travelling among various sidhe who lit three candles on Cnoc Firinne to welcome a king (Dinneen, 1900). The poet describes her as hooded, truthful, and ‘not dark of aspect’; in another poem he calls her ‘chalk-white’ (Dinneen, 1900). She also appears in the folk song An Buachaill Caol Dubh where she asks the spirit of alcohol, personified as a ‘dark, slim boy’, to release a person under his sway.

Of all the Queens Aoibheall is the one I am personally the closest to. I find her to be as capricious and mercurial as any of the aos sidhe but also both more openly joyous and quick to anger than others I have encountered. I have seen her with both red and blond hair; folklore doesn’t describe her hair colour, only that she is likely not dark haired and very pale. She has no known king in folklore, but we may perhaps assume a fondness for poets and musicians, although I have personally found her to be a bit hard towards men.

Aoibheall is a complex folkloric figure. Her actions in poem and song seem benevolent, yet in folklore she is associated with death, both through its prediction and causing it with her harp music. Like many Fairy Queens she takes human lovers, and we might associate her with cats, especially white ones, and with fire. Like the flame itself she is named beautiful, yet can be either terribly destructive or a great blessing. Ultimately she is as much mystery as certainty.

 

Honouring Aoibheall

A small altar or shrine can be set up for Aoibheall including both fire and water, perhaps in the form of a candle and small bowl of fresh water. A white cloth may be appropriate. You could also have a small plate to leave offerings; I recommend with this Queen to try to focus on the best quality you can manage.

I have found that it works well to use the cat as her symbol, and white or grey work well for her colours.

Offerings to her might include anything from the traditional cream, honey, or baked goods, to music or poetry. If being left outside I have found she prefers them left on rocks rather than near trees, but that may be different for different people.

 

Journeying to the Aoibheall

Aoibheall is the second named Queen and the fourth Queen you will be journeying to meet. I would offer this word of caution before you try this meditation: unlike the others, including Nicnevin, Aoibheall can be difficult to deal with and tends to be less welcoming to men. She is definitely a Queen you will need to be on your best behaviour with and I encourage you to keep in mind what you have learned in your previous experiences. More so than the others I really recommend making an effort to get to know her first with offerings and some quite meditation, to get a feel for who she is before you reach out to meet her ‘in person’ as it were.

As always: listen to whatever your guide tells you; promise nothing and give nothing that you are not truly willing to lose; never forget for a moment who it is you are dealing with.

 

“Relax and breathe deeply…in and out…in…and out…

Feel the solid earth beneath you. Let your spirit move down, out, into the earth. Fill yourself with the energy that rests deep in the soil…When you feel empowered by this energy pull your spirit back up, out of the earth.

You find yourself sitting on the ground at twilight.  Next to you is a staff of Rowan carved with symbols. The ground is warm beneath you, but the air is starting to chill as darkness falls. There is a light wind and you can smell the scent of a fire somewhere in the distance and of fallen leaves close by. You hear the sounds of birds calling to each other as they settle in to roost for the night and the murmuring of water over rocks. Although it is deep twilight and the world around you is dark you can see clearly. You are sitting in a field between an old forest and a river. At the other end of the field the shape of a hill rises up, a gentle curve in the earth.

As you look at the hill something catches your eye, flickering like firelight. You stand up, pick up the staff, and move towards the light…as you walk across the field towards the hill the light grows. As you get closer you can see that the light is coming from a door that opens up into the hill midway up the incline. Using the staff to help, you climb up the hill to the door.

At the entrance to the fairy hill you meet your guide, the same one that you encountered in your last meditation. Your guide greets you and welcomes you back into the hill again, leading you through the doorway and into the hill. You step through into the familiar hall you have visited before but this time your guide leads you through and out into the wider world of Fairy.

You cross an open expanse of grass and enter into a greenwood following a wide path. Your guide leads you on and on, up a slight incline. You pass an old natural well, the water bubbling up surrounded by well-worn rocks. The trees around you sway slightly in a breeze. You reach the top of a hill, and the trees thin out into a small grove. Your guide gestures you forward and as you cross towards the open space a figure emerges from the far side. She is well-formed and bold in her movements, clad in a white dress and accompanied by a small white cat. Her blond hair falls in waves to her waist and her green eyes give you a long measuring look.

(take time here to experience whatever occurs and let the experience unfold organically)

When you have done what you need to do your Guide gently tells you it is time to leave. You bow to the Queen and slowly back out of the grove then retrace your steps down the hill. Your guide leads you back through the woods, past the well, across the open grass and back into the hill you first entered. You pass back through the now familiar hill and to the same place you originally entered. At the entrance you put your token somewhere safe and say farewell to your Guide before stepping out the door. You pick the staff back up and as you do the door closes and the doorway vanishes into the hill. You are standing alone on the fairy hill in the dark night. Carefully climb down the hill and walk back across the field. The night is silent now, and dark, and the wind is cold. Put down the staff and sit down, resting on the earth.

Feel the solid earth beneath you. Let your spirit move down, out, into the earth. Fill yourself with the energy that rests deep in the soil…When you feel empowered by this energy pull your spirit back up, out of the earth.

Return to your body; feel yourself solidly back in mortal earth.

Relax and breathe deeply… in…and out…in and out…

Move slowly, reconnecting to your body, until you are ready to open your eyes.

Write down everything you saw or experienced in your journal.

 

 

References

Dinneen, P., (1900) Dánta Aodhagháin Uí Rathaille

Carson, C., (2006) The Midnight Court

O hOgain, D., (2006) The Lore of Ireland

MacKillop, J., (1996) A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology

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