[This month, we sit down with Daniela Simina. The author of Where Fairies Meet, which compares Irish and Romanian traditions about the Good Neighbors, Simina here discusses her book, her personal spiritual practices, and her upcoming projects.]
ev0ke: How do you define your personal spiritual practice? Does it have a name or is it more intuitive and eclectic?
Daniela Simina: First I want to thank you for inviting me for this interview. I consider myself a Pagan, a fairy witch, and my framework is Norse-Gaelic. I grew up in Romania immersed in local fairies and fairy traditions. My grandmother, a fairy seer and medicine woman, was a hugely influential figure. I learned a lot from her and while she resisted for as long as she could to initiate me into working with fairies, in the end, it did happen and it was deeply transformative.
The first stories and fairy lore that I soaked up were Romanian and German, and they certainly shaped my beliefs. The Irish thread came in much later and weaved in harmoniously with the rest. Over the years, the path distilled itself as Norse-Gaelic with heavy use of Romanian magic that I learned as a child.
ev0ke: You recently released Where Fairies Meet: Parallels Between Irish and Romanian Fairy Traditions. First, congratulations! Second, how did this book come about? Did you approach Moon Books with the idea, or did they come to you?
DS: Thank you! This is one of the books I wish I had for myself a few years ago when I was finding my way on a spiritual path that is actually itself an intersection of two cultures. A comparative study written in a small and friendly format, yet well researched and rich in story material was just what I needed. Yet, the idea of writing this book didn’t come up immediately. The book started as a conference paper, but while writing the abstract I was guided (yes, fairy influence) to actually write a book and choose a different fairy-related topic for the conference. At that point I had already studied a lot of material and had plenty of experience with fairy-related magic. As I said, my spiritual path is rooted in the Irish cultural landscape, and Romanian fairy traditions are also familiar ground. I have always been fascinated and intrigued about the parallels between fairy traditions that exist on both sides. I could not resist the urge to dig deeper and find, learn and experience more.
Then, I reached a point when I felt compelled to tell the world about what I found. I wanted to present my material in a way that would invite people to think about what lies behind these traditions and based on evidence, to consider that there is a significant degree of reality to the stories. I wanted to underline that similarity does not imply identity. While there are parallels between the Irish and Romanian fairies, it does not mean that fairies are one and the same kind of beings appearing under different names. Irish and Romanian fairies are distinct and beautiful in their uniqueness, same as the cultures they come from.
A book seemed the ideal way to put everything together and spread the message, and since I really like telling stories I decided to bring this idea into existence. I wrote the draft, had a couple of friends, writers, take a look and since the feedback was positive and Morgan Daimler gracefully agreed to write the preface, I tidied up the manuscript and submitted it to Moon Books. Moon Books was my dream publisher. I always thought of the team very highly and hoped that one day I’d be a part of their wonderful team of authors. I cannot describe the joy that I felt when my manuscript made it through all the checkpoints and got the green light for publishing!
ev0ke: Where Fairies Meet covers a variety of topics, from sports to music to dance to healing. You also discuss the Wild Hunt and the Sântoaderi. The Wild Hunt makes frequent (and inaccurate) appearances in Western popular culture. Is the same true for the Sântoaderi in Eastern Europe and related cultures?
DS: The Wild Hunt as a phenomenon is much wider known than Sântoaderi. For those who haven’t read Where Fairies Meet and are not familiar with this aspect of Romanian fairy lore, I will say that Sântoaderi are in some ways equivalent to the Wild Hunt. Depending on the geographical area, descriptions vary slightly. Sântoaderi appear as centaur-like beings, or fairy men who shod their boots in iron. They are all affiliated with a more central figure, Sântoader, who has a Christian equivalent, Saint Toader. The fusion of Christian and pre-Christian elements is quite evident here. There are local and regional variations for stories and practices related to Sântoaderi. As a parallel to the Wild Hunt, Sântoaderi are around during certain times of the year. They are dangerous, destructive, and must be avoided at all costs. But, as another parallel to the Wild Hunt, Sântoaderi can occasionally bestow gifts. On a specific date and through a specific ritual, Sântoaderi are invoked to bless girls of marriageable age with beauty and good luck in finding a husband. Different than Sântoaderi though, the Wild Hunt gifting things to those who would occasionally join the ride is rare and it is not really something that people can attain through ritual and invocation.
Because they are known primarily to Romanians and their lore has not spread cross-culturally, as it is the case with the Wild Hunt, I haven’t heard yet of any misrepresentation or distortion. I am very glad that I can bring to the general public information about Sântoaderi, information that is accurate and unfiltered because it comes directly from native sources.
ev0ke: You also discuss the demotion of Deities to fairies and sometimes down to humans. Is there one story or being who you think best exemplifies this change?
DS: My favorite example is Áine. In Irish myth, Áine is a goddess with ties to the race of gods known as the Tuatha Dé Danann. She is connected to the sun’s benevolent rays making crops ripen. Áine is also related to healing and personal sovereignty. All these attributes carried on with Áine the fairy queen – an identity she took on when people had to reconcile the monotheistic religion which did not permit considering another deity with older beliefs too valuable to discard. Fairy queen Áine preserves all the attributes and power of the goddess. Recast as a woman, the euhemerized Áine is dubbed as “the best hearted woman who ever lived”. Looking at all three hypostases, I prefer to think more in terms of relegation rather than real demotion. Whether an ancient goddess, fairy monarch, or a woman of exceptional kindness and strength, Áine shines today, as she always did. Her name is tied to places — Knock Áine in County Limerick being one example — and fires are still lit on hilltops at Midsummer in her honor.
ev0ke: What sort of research went into Where Fairies Meet? Long discussions with other practitioners and scholars? Digging into old books of lore?
DS: I wrote the book in about four months, but the research that went into it took some years. This is knowledge that I accumulated through a lifetime of living with fairy magic, and of being in contact directly and indirectly with Irish and Romanian cultures and land. Being in contact directly with land and culture is self-explanatory: one goes to physical locations and engages with the land and the culture. Engaging indirectly is an arduous process, a steep, uphill climb because it involves becoming familiar with the language, history, literature, social aspects, and the past and present of a specific culture. Learning fairy lore and folklore is just one layer atop of a foundation represented by everything else that I just mentioned. Fairy traditions only make sense within the broader context of the respective culture.
I grew up in Romania and engaged in fairy-related traditions because my grandmother was a fairy seer and medicine woman. Fairy seership involves a significant degree of secrecy so I wasn’t really invited to partake, I had to push for it and for the most part I only received half answers. So, at a very young age I began to look into collections of folklore and talk to those among the elders who would give me crumbs of the knowledge I was begging for. This is the preliminary work that went into writing this book. When my spiritual path began to meander into the Irish landscape and I started to engage with the culture both directly and indirectly, the parallels between Romanian and Irish fairy traditions stood out in all splendor. I was awestruck.
Then, I received precise instructions from my own fairy guides to write this brief, yet comprehensive, comparative study. I talked to teachers native to Irish culture and to people invested in preserving Irish cultural heritage. I attended classes and lectures to learn how to engage respectfully and in ways that are not appropriative. While in Ireland, I connected with both the energy of the physical locations and listened to lore and stories told by local people.
For the Romanian material presented in the book, I wanted to bring forth the lore and stories that I grew up with without me being the one retelling them. With help from friends that I have in Romania, I added to my library copies of works that are currently out of print, books that don’t sell outside Romania, and that have never been translated into other languages. Additionally, I gathered data from research papers and PhD theses to complement my own observations and personal experience with the tradition of fairy seership.
I must specify though that I do not claim to speak on behalf of all fairy seers or fairy doctors in Romania, for two reasons mainly. First, there is a significant degree of secrecy surrounding these practices, and many practitioners won’t discuss the details of how they engage with fairies. So, at a practical level there are things that I do not know, things that will die once these practitioners pass out of embodied existence. Second, there are not only regional but also local differences in the way fairy seership was and is approached. In the book, I speak of what I know from direct interaction with my grandmother and friends of hers, who also engaged in the practice, plus everything that I could find about fairy-related beliefs in regional lore and traditions of wider circulation.
ev0ke: What interesting bit of history or folklore did you absolutely have to include? Were there some things you had to leave out?
DS: There are actually two stories that I had to include because they give a gist of fairies’ nature: generous, fair, and, at the same time, merciless.
One story is about woodcutters in the forests in Transylvania — part of my family is from that area — who enjoy protection from the fairies protecting the forest, as long as they act respectfully toward the place and the fairies to whom the space belongs. When there is a breach in etiquette due to greediness and disregard of fairies’ powers, the whole group witnesses the uncanniest turn of events with the two trespassers’ paying with their lives.
The second story also takes place in Transylvania, sometime in the 19th century. Three fortune seekers decide to explore an abandoned gold mine. A mine-fairy, in the shape of a cat, appears to each man separately trying to both lure and scare them. As the end of the story reveals, the fairy-cat seeks a blood offering. The man who demonstrates honesty and fortitude survives and leaves with a fair load of gold nuggets, while the other two become the blood tribute. I like these stories because they show fairies as powerful beings with agency and personal agendas who can affect humans’ luck and health. Such description matches many of the encounters described in Irish lore, and paints a very different picture from the one portraying fairy as elementals, beings that are not fully developed and in need of human assistance to evolve.
ev0ke: How prevalent is belief in fairies in Romania, and the rest of Eastern Europe, today? Is it fading? Seen as something old fashioned? Or is it undergoing a resurgence?
DS: This is a very interesting question to answer. I actually did a whole presentation on this topic for the Folklore Society Conference last year. In order for the answer to make sense, first I have to give a little bit of context. The Communist regime which was in power for almost half a century, force-fed its pragmatic ideology to a people with profound attachment to spirituality. Beliefs in anything supernatural were openly derided and secretly punished with jail or death by assassination. This period was one of accelerated industrialization and saw massive migration of people from rural to urban areas. Many traditions including those associated with fairies almost perished due to a combination of factors. Moving from the countryside into the city in search of a better life, people sought to fit in and divorced themselves from their parents and grandparents’ beliefs. But, as I said, fairy beliefs did not die out, despite having been terribly eroded. Away from prying eyes some managed to keep the flame alive: my grandmother was one of those people. Also, in remote areas of the country beliefs and traditions survived due to geographical isolation. After the fall of the Communist regime in 1989, older beliefs and fairy lore began to reemerge and gain traction particularly among the young adults and teens, and the elderly who would still remember. Fairy-related traditions in Romania are regaining popularity, but it is a relatively slow process. Also, Romania is strongly Christian and fairy lore has adapted and molded to fit the predominant beliefs. I dare say that this is happening throughout Eastern Europe in general, although I don’t want to overstep and talk about cultures and traditions that I am only vaguely familiar with.
ev0ke: In addition to your own work, what other books, journals, or sites would you recommend to those interested in fairylore? Especially fairy lore from outside Ireland?
DS: The list can get really long here. Thus, I recommend Morgan Daimler’s A New Dictionary of Fairies, which is not limited to Irish fairies but covers a much broader spectrum. And, by the same author, I recommend Fairy: The Otherworld by Many Other Names and Fairies in the 21 st Century. Morgan Daimler also has an excellent blog, “Living Liminally”.
I highly recommend the work of Cat Heath, her book Gods, Elves, and Witches and her blog “Seo Helrune”.
Morgan and Cat have a podcast, “Feeding the Fairies,” that is available on Spotify, Stitcher, and probably other platforms as well.
John Kruse wrote a wonderful book about fairies in England, Faery: A Guide to the Lore, Magic & World of the Good Folk.
Dr. Simon Young, whose work I warmly recommend, published a “Fairy Census”, which documents fairy encounters in different countries. Together with Ceri Houlbrook, he also wrote Magical Folk: A History of Real Fairies, 500 AD to the Present.
Barbara Rieti’s book Strange Terrain documents fairy encounters and existing fairy lore in Newfoundland, Canada.
For those interested in Romanian traditions, I would suggest Ion Ghinoiu’s Romanian Folk Almanac, which, albeit not focusing on fairies, still helps the reader gage the culture and gain deeper insights about fairies in that context.
ev0ke: Which conventions, book fairs, or other events do you hope to attend in the foreseeable future?
DS: I am preparing to present at several conferences: “Re-Awakening the Sacred Self”, an online event coordinated by Frances Billinghurst, from Australia; “Mystic South 2024” which is an in-person event based in Atlanta Georgia, USA; and I am looking forward to “MoonCon 2024”, an online event organized by Moon Books, my publisher. I’m quite sure that there will be more, and those who follow me on social media will get notified immediately.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
DS: I am currently putting the final touches on a two-part class, “Whispers in the Twilight: Fairy Magic from Basic to Advanced”. I have the sense that this will lead to writing another book.
Aside from the conferences that I previously mentioned, I plan to post more on my own blog, “Whispers in the Twilight” which is all about fairies, fairy magic, lore and folklore, and where I share quite a bit from my own personal practice. It is a space open for comments and discussions, a space where I can answer questions, readers are welcome to share their thoughts, and in the end we can all learn from each other. I want to offer more free content on my YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok channels, and this would be not only about my own classes, books, events, etc., but also point the audience toward valuable resources and the works of other writers and teachers.
Once again, thank you. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to talk about my work and share from my own spiritual path, in the hope that other people will find the information useful.