This month we will look at the highest rank of faeries, often simply called the Sidhe <pronounced "shee">, also called the Shining Ones, Fair folk, the Gentry, Tylwyth Teg <pronounced "terlooth tay>, Aos Sidhe, Daoine Sidhe, the Good Neighbors, Alfs, and Elves, to name a few of the more common names. Sidhe is also used as a general term for all faeries and is, in Irish, the word that means fairy hill. There is a strong superstition among some people not to use their proper name, so there are many descriptive names like Shining Ones, that are used as a substitute. Stories of the Daoine Sidhe are found among the Irish, Scottish, English, Welsh, Germanic and Norse peoples, as well as the lands settled by these cultures. They live in mounds or hills, which are also called sidhe in Irish Gaelic, and which may only be entered by magic. The prohibition against disturbing the mounds of the Daoine Sidhe are so strong among the Irish (and Icelanders as well)that even today roadways are built around them instead of over or through them.
The Daoine Sidhe are described as being taller than most people - probably around six feet. They are usually extremely pale with blonde or red hair, but brown or black hair have also been described. The Fair Folk are inhumanly beautiful, and although they lack the pointed ears that modern lore gives them, they could never be mistaken for human as they glow from within with the power of Faery. They are the Kings and Queens of the Otherworld, and as such can be very regal in appearance, appearing richly dressed or in fine intricate armor, often in the company of their faery hounds and horses. In some stories they may also appear dressed like anyone else, except for the unhuman air about them. In these stories there is often a woman of the Good Neighbors who takes a liking to a housewife and will occassionally visit to give warnings or advice that benefit the household. The Daoine Sidhe are generally described as living in social groups similar to the structure of human society, with a set heirarchy.
There are many stories of the Daoine Sidhe, especially in Ireland where they figure in much of the older mythology. Many believe that the Daoine Sidhe are the old Gods of Ireland, the Tuatha de Danaan <people of Danu> who were driven under the hills when humans first came to their land, but remained in contact with our world. They can influence us for good or ill, either granting good fortune or bringing bad luck - even death depending on their inclinations. Some people believe that spontaneous human combustion was a result of angering these powerful faeries, and their invisible arrows, called elfshot, were thought to be the cause of strokes and other sudden ailments.
They are known to be masters of semantics and often mislead mortals while telling only the absolute truth, and their magical illusions, called glamour, can not be told from reality making them extremely tricky to deal with. As recently as a hundred years ago the Daoine Sidhe were known to steal babies and brides to suppliment their own numbers, as their birthrate is very low. When a child was born and then became sickly people thought that it was a sign that the real baby had been taken and replaced with a changeling <either a small wizened faery or an object glamoured to appear as the child> which would shortly die, while the real baby was raised in Faery. One example similar to this is the story of Tamlin who as an adult escapes Faery and rejoins humanity. In the case of brides, they would be taken either during or before the wedding party, again with a glamoured double left behind to "die", while the real woman would be married to one of the Fair Folk. There were stories of midwives, kidnapped to deliver a faery baby only to find themselves at the bedside of a local girl thought to have died, but actually having been taken and now bearing a child to her Faery husband. There are stories of families, such as a clan in Scotland and another in Ireland, believed to be descended from the Faery wife of a mortal man. There are other stories, such as the tale of Thomas the Rhymer, where a mortal man, usually a gifted poet or musician, is taken for a period of time - often seven years - then returned to the mortal world. Such people are often referred to as being "touched" by the fairies.
Whether the Daoine Sidhe are truly gods or demigods is a debated point today. Some followers of Celtic paths worship the Tuatha de Danaan, including Gods such as Brighid, Lugh, Morrighan, Dagda, Danu and many more, while others see them as powerful but only semi-divine figures, and others <like myself> see the Tuatha de Danaan as the Gods and the Aos Sidhe as the Faeries and separate the two into slightly different catagories. Either way they are far more powerful than any other faery or human being for that matter. They are masters of magical arts and amazing warriors who use their long lives to hone their skills. They do not die of natural causes or old age but can be killed in childbirth or comabt, although there is persuasive evidence that the death of their physical bodies was only temporary as they could either raise their own dead in a sacred cauldron, or be reborn into a new body, but with all their previous memories intact.
In Norse myth they are called Alfar <singular Alf> which has been Anglecized into Elves <sing. Elf> although this can cause confusion with another smaller more generic type of faery also called elves but clearly a separate creature from the original Alfar. In the Norse sagas the Alfar are seen as male beings, similar in description to the Irish Sidhe, who live in Alfheim under the rule of the Vanic God Freyr. They control the weather and are associated with both light and air. It can be difficult to learn much of the Alfar from other folklore sources as the term "elf" is often a generic word used to describe a wide variety of faeries in Norse and English myth. In this way we see the same confusion around the word as we find with the word Sidhe.
I do not, personally, recommend trying to contact or interact with the Daoine Sidhe until you have mastered the tricky art of faery ettiquette, as they are the most easily offended and powerful of all faeries. They do not grade on a curve and rarely forgive lapses due to ignorance. It is never wise to say thank you to any faery as they are offended by any implication that they are our servants, but it is equally dangerous not to show proper gratitude when recieving a faery gift. The best middle ground is to offer a gift for a gift without a verbal thank you, but with a compliment to what you recieved as well as speech offering your gift to them. I often carry a selection of small items like crystals and coins to offer them since the value of the gifts are not as important to them as the giving itself. Anytime I feel they have done something for me or left something for me to find I will give them something in exchange. It is believed that to eat or drink food from faery will trap you there forever so it’s best to avoid these items, and as well to remember that with faeries what you percieve is often illusion and apt to change with the dawn. Remember good manners are key with any faeries.
Next month we will learn about the Roan, the seal folk of fairy, and tips on seeing faeries.
Gundrasson, Elves, Wights, and Trolls
Froud and Lee, Faeries
Evans-Wentz, the Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
Yeats, Celtic Twilight
Lenihan and Green, Meeting the Other Crowd