Why Have a ‘Fairy’ Godparent: Faërie and Godparenthood

David Russell Mosley

Christmastide
30 December 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

I’ve been thinking about godparenthood lately. My own boys don’t yet have godparents, the Restoration Movement having no real place for this in its liturgical or ecclesiological practices. Nevertheless, I am drawn to this practice. There is a beauty to it, this notion that your children have other parents, not merely to raise them should something happen to their natural parents, but to help raise them in the faith. Which leads me to the purpose of this letter, to consider, what is the role of the fairy Godmother (it is nearly, so far as I know, always a woman). I will write a series of letters discussing the way fairy godmothers function in their stories. To begin, then, we must try to understand what a godparent is.

Catherine Pickstock in her excellent book After Writing has this to say about Godparenthood:

‘Godparenthood, in the high Middle Ages, was more than a metaphor; it was one of the most immediate forms of kinship. Although the parenting was spiritual, it was no less a real parenting, so real, in fact, that marriage between godparent and godchild was forbidden by the barrier of incest. Its principle was that of compaternitas, which affirmed that a godparent was kin not only to the child, but to his natural family as well. It represented the creation of a formal ritual friendship, symbolized by gifts and festivals, to which natural kinship could only aspire. And such psuchic parenting, or care for the soul, was the very thing which mediated between blood relations and the wider community. The principle of compaternitas, or development of a society structure based upon contractual “bonds”‘⁠1 (143).

A godparent, argues Pickstock, is now in a real relationship with their godchild. There is, through the rites and rituals––and, note well, the gifts––, a bond created, not unlike that of the bond of marriage between the godparent and the godchild’s family. There are many elements both from the passage in Pickstock and in godparenthood’s history that are worth studying. However, there are three key aspects I want to focus on: first is the gift-giving aspect that solidifies the relationship between godparent and child, and this plays out in fairy tales; the second is the kinship that is forged between godparent and child; and the final is the ‘psuchic parenting’ this care for the soul aspect of godparenthood.

I will look at these aspects in a few key stories: Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty as instances in more ‘traditional’ fairy tales; and The Light Princess and the Curdie stories by George MacDonald. So join me as we examine fairy godparenthood and what role Faërie plays in raising us in the faith.

Sincerely yours,
David

1 Pickstock, After Writing, 140.

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A Year in Review

David Russell Mosley

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Advent
Third Sunday of Advent
14 December 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Depending on when you want to place the end of one year and the start of another, I’m either several weeks late to the end/beginning of the year, or several weeks early. Still, I thought I would do a brief post reviewing this last year on Letters from the Edge of Elfland.

Top Posts:

The number one most viewed post this last year:

The (Not so) Shocking Beliefs of C. S. Lewis

This was a rather recent post, but very popular.

Number 2:

On The Economics of Elfland: In Honour of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Birthday

Number 3:

What is the Theologian’s Place in the Church: A Plea of Theologians-in-Residence

Number 4:

Creation Debates: Why Ken Ham and Bill Nye both Get it Wrong

Number 5:

The Return of Arthur: A Conversation with John Milbank and C. S. Lewis

Top Blogs Who Sent People to My Blog:

Christ and University

“Sublunary Sublime”

Stories and Soliloquies

Mysteries and Manners

Top Countries:

USA: 7991 views

UK: 2720 views

Australia: 675 views

Germany: 633 views

Spain: 109 views

Total Views: 13505

Thanks all for such a great year! Look for a new letter around Wednesday!

Sincerely yours,
David

The Christmas List: Training in Covetousness or the Training of Desires?

David Russell Mosley

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Advent
10 December 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Last year I wrote a post responding to a new professor at my alma mater on Father Christmas. The problem, according to Dr Samples, is that Father Christmas/Santa Claus has become a source for perpetuating economic disparities. As I noted in the post, a friend of mine once told me that she discovered Santa wasn’t real because the rich(er) kids down the road got more and more expensive presents than she did. Recently, a new friend of mine, writing an excellent series of posts concerning the United States’s unnamed god, Affluence. He suggests that by training our children to write Christmas lists is to train them in the worship of affluence by teaching them to covet, to desire things they don’t have but want to have. However, I think the Christmas list and the presents brought by Father Christmas do not have to be trainers in covetousness nor perpetuations of economic disparity.

Now, first let me say that nothing will stop some parents from lavishing their children with presents at Christmas time. I was spoiled as a child, all the time, not simply at Christmas. However, I was trained not to brag about my presents because not everyone could get the same things I did. This actually taught me to share, but this is besides the point. If we cannot permanently change how our given neighbourhood parents “do” Christmas, as regards presents, we can change how we and our churches do it. Let me suggest at least one way.

A professor of mine talks about training his children’s desires. He will ask them what they want (desire) for dinner. They might say chips (fries), or candy, or fast food. He will then tell them that instead of any of those things they are having baked fish (or whatever has been made for dinner). The point is to teach them what they ought to desire. By allowing them to voice what they really do desire, but not give it to them, he is helping them learn what they ought to desire versus what they do desire in a given instance. I’m sure this ends in meltdowns and tears often. I’m equally sure that some nights he gives in. But the point is to try, to try to change their desires from low things, that can be good at times, to higher things that are much better. When we allow our children to make Christmas lists that they send to Father Christmas, we’re allowing them to voice their desires. Yet we are not bound to get anything on those lists. Some items may be intangibles, I frequently asked for snow. Others may be well outside of the parents’ price range. J. R. R. Tolkien used to write letters from Father Christmas to his children. While as the stories grew so did the Father Christmas mythology, equally, most of the letters are a way of explaining why the children didn’t get everything on their lists; typically, this is because of some catastrophe that happened at the North Pole. I think we can take this a step further.

I do not have children old enough to ask for anything for Christmas yet, so these are purely ideals that will likely change over time. Nevertheless, I think there is a way that we can allow our children to give voice to their desires in the Christmas list that will be beneficial to them, especially when they don’t receive all the things they asked for. A child might ask for the latest video game system and instead might get a book. A child might ask for a pony, or even a puppy, and yet only get an art set. It’s likely they will be sad not to get all the things on their lists. Yet, if we as parents continue to get them things that are good for them (I am not suggesting that video games, ponies, or puppies are inherently bad for children, just that they represent rather expensive options that parents may not be able to buy their children) we can train them in their desires; and I think we will see a change in what they ask for, because their desires will be being properly ordered.

Parents of children who actually ask for presents, what do you think? Am I completely off base here?

Sincerely yours,

David

The Scholar’s Compass: A New Place to Find Me

David Russell Mosley

Advent
Conception of Mary
8 December 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today I just wanted to write you a quick note to let you know about a new place you’ll occasionally be able to find me. Some time ago the people over at the Emerging Scholar’s Network Blog decided to start putting together a devotional for Christian scholars called Scholar’s Compass. While there is much that can be learned from devotionals and other prayer practices meant for everyday Christians, it is nice to have one set aside for scholars. So alongside some other stellar authors, you can now find me. Two of my devotions have already gone up for this Advent season.

Advent: The New Year Begins

Learning from Father Christmas

Please let me know what you think. I pray you will be blessed by those I have written and those written by the others (and they are spectacular).

Sincerely yours,
David

A River of Blood, a River of Life: The Vision of Ezekiel 47.1-12

David Russell Mosley

Advent
St Andrews
1 December 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today is the transferred Feast of St Andrew (transferred from yesterday since yesterday was the first day of Advent, which if you want to see my most recent devotion on Advent check it out here). I was doing Morning Prayer (from Common Worship for those interested) this morning and I got to the Old Testament reading. Now I use the Revised Common Lectionary––I intend a passage on the benefits and problems with using a lectionary. I like it because it includes Apocryphal readings. The Apocrypha is not Scripture in the way the texts of the Old Testament or New Testament are, but it has been found useful by the Early and Medieval Churches and shouldn’t be ignored by non-Catholics/Orthodox. However, by an oversight today, I didn’t read the provided Apocryphal text, Ecclesiasticus 14.20-end. I didn’t see it listed and so read the Old Testament reading instead, and today, I’m glad I did.

The passage from the Old Testament for today was Ezekiel 47.1-12:

‘Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple towards the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me round on the outside to the outer gate that faces towards the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side.

Going on eastwards with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?”

Then he led me back to the bank of the river. As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on one side and on the other. And he said to me, “This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh. And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”’

The beauty of this passage was not made evident to me until I took my Hebrew History and Literature II course in undergrad. It was there that my Old Testament professor pointed out that an ever-widening river is flowing out from the Temple. For whatever reason, it had not dawned on me that this river had its source in a building and flowed out from there. Today, I had a new realisation about this text, one I’m sure many before me have seen. This river is a river of blood. I don’t mean this in some kind of macabre sense, rather I mean it is a river of life. It provides sustenance to the world. It makes the sea fresh and fills it with fresh water fish for eating. It is surrounded by fruit trees whose fruit is good to eat and whose leaves are healing. But more than simply giving life to these trees as any water would, this river gives unending life, ‘Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month.’ And why? ‘because the water for them flows from the sanctuary.’ For us, today, it is clear what this river is, it is the blood of Christ. What else is so life-giving? What else can give the world unending life? What else picks up such momentum as it spreads out as the blood of our Lord and Saviour.

When we partake of the Eucharist, we are drinking from this river. We are given life, unending life by drinking it. Yet, what is even more astounding to me is the holistic dimension of this passage. While its true that humanity is definitely the focus here, the trees are meant for our use, nevertheless, this river transfigures the whole of Creation. It changes the sea into fresh water, except for certain places so salt can be had; it changes the dry land into fertile land; it changes fruit trees, with their cycles of blossom, bloom, fruiting, and harvest, into perpetual harvest; it imparts healing power to the leaves of the fruit trees. The whole of Creation is changed by this river which flows from the heart of the sanctuary, which is the Eucharist.

What a passage to read in Advent! Christ’s coming into Creation has transfigured Creation. If we are being deified, conforming to the image of God incarnate, so too is the rest of Creation, each part as is fitting. And yet, we do not see the fulfillment of this. We can see patches of the world that have been so transfigured, in part anyway, but the world as a whole is still broken, is still parched desert. This is why we wait. We wait for the return of Christ, for the free-flowing of this river that gives life and deifies the Cosmos. In the mean time we must do our part to spread it, to do the will of God in transfiguring his Creation, to make his name holy, to bring about his Kingdom here on Earth as it already exists in Heaven.

 

Sincerely yours,
David