“Yesterday upon the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away
When I came home last night at three
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall
I couldn’t see him there at all!”
~ Antigonish (Mearns, 1899)
“By late noon, as the shadows lengthened and then withdrew quickly across the blue hearth stone, the noises commenced again at this remote and surely cursed relic of an abode. As on previous occasions, it starts with the clicking and then chirping. An incessant and anxiety inducing sound, unlike anything my inner aural library recognised or indeed comprehended…” - April 28th
To the reckoning of most, we are all ultimately alone in this world; but the Witch knows different. We are never truly alone. We are constantly surrounded by our spirits or gods, bugged by our ‘Muses’ and the extremely lucky ones can find a part of their missing soul hidden within another; but even if not, we all have our Otherselves. Witch or no.
Throughout the British Isles, especially in Ireland and Scotland, there is much talk of the Faerie Co-Walker, the Otherself; which has been known throughout the years, and presently, under many names. Doubles, Fetches, or Wraiths are believed to be the ‘attending spirit’ of the living person, and oft times considered a guardian spirit – Usually ancestral.
“Now as the light and warmth quickly diminish from this valley, I perceive the barely audible but pure whistle-like tone they emit on approach to our world. Of course, as time and age take me, I am now beginning to wonder just what distance actually separates us. Surely not enough. In years past, I was informed in a most serious manner, by the people who taught me the ancient art, that these beings or creatures had been (and perhaps still were) the procurers of potent ointments and salves to the Witches of antiquity. My mentor assured me that by carrying church blessed water and the sharpest cold iron I could find, they may just leave me be; due to their inherent fear and contempt for such substances…” - April 28th
The knowledge of these creatures, these Co-Walkers, has been around for centuries. The Greeks had their agathodaemones and kakodaemones which attached to men, swaying their decisions to one side or the other. Socrates would take counsel and guidance from his daemon. The Romans had their genii. And in Northern tradition they had their fylgja (someone that accompanies). It was believed that everyone inherited an hereditary guardian spirit at birth, which held their ancestral wyrd in their grasp, their ancestral inheritance and their luck.
These Co-Walkers, or Fetches, are capable of traveling abroad from the body of whomever they are attending. There is a massive amount of folklore and Witchlore pertaining to this, and most already know of the Witchs’ Familiar, sent forth from their blood and bone counterpart to do their bidding, sometimes in ‘true form’, sometimes that of an animal.
“Feather light and mutable are their forms, ever shifting and changeable, not unlike the cool morning mists that rise above the nearby fens and marshes. Yes, icy cold, like frozen breath in the darkness of the deepest Winter’s night. These vaporous Chameleons have a keen thirst for fine liquor, accompanied by a ravenous hunger for the farmer’s grain and corn. Only the essence mind you, for they quickly discard the husks and gross matter, finding this wholly unpalatable…” - April 28th
But it isn’t all sweetness and light and happy families.
The word ‘Fetch’ may derive from fæcce in Old English, which is glossed for mære; a spirit associated with death and nightmares. It is believed to see one’s Fetch is an omen of impending death, for the body has ‘given up its ghost’, and this is very true, my friends. There will be death. A death to the way you see the world, a death to your way of thinking, a death to all you once believed to be true, and yes, sometimes actual, physical death. For something which has been seen, cannot be un-seen. Once you have stared into the Unseen, and the Unseen has stared back into you, you are forever changed. Not quite the person you once were.
Striving for full awareness of your Faerie Co-Walker, is a dangerous path to walk. I’m not talking here about the dainty, gossamer-winged creatures of Victorian fancy. I am talking about the primal, ancient beings that would steal your baby from it’s crib, lure you to your doom in the fog, forests or wetlands, the powerful subterranean-dwellers who live according to their own laws, that can (and will) rip your face off. I jest you not. These beings should be approached with the utmost care, diligence and respect; a healthy dose of fear would not go amiss either. As a misstep could cost you your sanity, or your life.
“My patrons, both present and past (and undoubtedly, future) met with them at the midnight hour. Out on the dark lonely highways, deep in the hollows, the caves and at the cursed and unholy crossroads; the lonely thresholds that were once home to the gallows and the deep buried carcasses of vagrants, vagabonds, harlots and murderers. My teachers thought more of these places than God’s own churches; and when winds and stars were right, would exchange tokens, make pacts and renew ancient covenants with these strange and fearful folk…” - April 29th
As Witches we take calculated risks, nothing should be approached lightly or on a whim, especially when dealing with these beings. Think of the stories you have heard. Think of all the age old charms to protect against Faeries and the like; their origins are not based in fantasy, but on a very serious need to be cautious. Take heed and protect yourself from these hungry ghosts, the shadows and reflections of our long lost past
Some will never attain full awareness of their Co-Walker, most will never want to, and can be content with a contact of sorts with this Otherself. “If invited and earnestly required, these companions make themselves known and familiar to men”*. This contact can take years to build, but can be increased at certain times, in certain places, especially at ancient sites of cultural heritage. Out beneath the turbulent skies, on wind-whipped moors, surrounded by the unparalleled natural beauty and danger of the wetlands, amongst the haunted hills and vales, deep within the dark forests carpeted with bluebells, or upon the ancient mounds of our Ancestors – The places the dead lie (human, and animal) can become an interaction point between our realm and theirs.
“From my own observation, research and most importantly direct contact, I have to conclude that the nature of these beings reside somewhere between Angel and Flesh-bound Man. I have witnessed them on successive nights moving to and from their dark and hollow hills, while the land seethes and spits the cold fire that lights their way. In horror, I have quietly followed them down from the hills as they descend into our villages and towns to mingle, mimic, manipulate, and on occasion murder the unsuspecting towns folk. They covertly steal the trinkets we surround ourselves with, and if the truth be heard, would steal the first breath from the newborns lips (if the proper wards and sigils were not in place). I have been forced to consider that far beyond their chaotic whistle and chatter, they are as one. A collective, united in serving a single unknown and unseen power. Their faith, politics, learning and motivations are way beyond our reason and understanding. Some nights I hear music and merrymaking from beneath the hills, and have been told that the lanterns they dance beneath bear no wick or tallow, having shone since the land was young…” - April 29th
These creatures are cunning, and ready to catch you out. I’m sure you have all heard of ‘Faerie Trickery’, but their playfulness is not unlike our malice, their games can be cruel, their presence painful, their sport can be what our nightmares are made of. So be prepared on your journeys to meet with them; if you still wish to make the contact that is. They will demand a lot from you, sometimes more than you are prepared to give (and they will take by force what you do not give willingly), and in return you will see very little at first, maybe ever. Their thoughts on exchange don’t always meet our own, and in their minds they may have already bestowed great bounty upon you just by revealing their presence.
Do not be fooled that you ever have the upper hand with these beings, no matter how many times you convene, for they can surely cut you down a peg or two. And cut you down they will. Humility will be one of your greatest allies against this fierce race, and can afford you a measure of protection, however slight that may be. Older than the ancient hills they abide within and beneath, they have seen many ages come and go. Yet, they remain. Steadfast and attached to the Land. And part of it. Waiting and ready. Ready for what?
“Tired am I, of the summoning. The sonorous crooning of old songs to the snapping of ash wand, and forceful tearing of bud and stem; just to be battered and thrown around like an abused rag doll when they rush in from the four corners of the world. Their spitting and threatening no longer brings the overwhelming rush of exhilaration I once felt. I carry the unseen scars of their weapons; the century seasoned wooden sword, the hammers of bone from creatures long past, and their tiny barbed stone arrows, which are forcefully unleashed upon us from the darkness. Weapons that inflict illness and melancholy upon their clueless victims, sometimes death to the weaker and more vulnerable, and no one is the wiser (apart from those who are truly wise and dearly wish they were not, as wisdom seldom brings a peaceful mind)…
But upon this very night, I solemnly prepare myself to meet with them once again (perhaps for the last time), to uphold our part of the bargain and join with them in convocation within this desolate, haunted ruin. This is the legacy my patrons have entrusted to me, to tremble and weep once more, within the ice cold darkness that will soon descend upon this place. To further let go, and lose a part of my humanity, a fragment of warmth from my immortal soul, perhaps to fuel their obscene lanterns, and in return for what?” - April 30th
Text – Sarah-Jayne Farrer & Matt Baldwin-Ives
‘The Co-Walker’ © Ian Thurlby & Matt Baldwin-Ives (www.milescross.co.uk)
All other images © Matt Baldwin-Ives
Diary Extracts - with kind permission from the owner
* Robert Kirk – The Secret Commonwealth: of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies (1691)