Gods and Fairies - Excerpt from Fairycraft
In Christian myth it is said that the fairies exist as beings that are between the nature of angels and demons; many people dismiss this as later propaganda but I believe it represents a reflection of genuine older belief. In pagan times the fairies were seen as being of the same nature as the Gods, but on a lower level, existing somewhere between the Gods and humans. Within modern Fairy Faiths the fairies - as well as the old Gods - have been greatly diminished and reduced to beings that are often seen as less than human, but this is not true to the older view.
In Grimm's Teutonic Mythology we are told: "On the nature of Elves I resort for advice to the ON. [old Norse] authorities, before all others…..the Elder Edda several times couples œsir and âlfar together, as though they were a compendium of all higher beings, and that the AS. [Anglo-Saxon] ês and ylfe stand together in exactly the same way. This apparently concedes more of a divinity to elves than to men." (Grimm, 1882). From this we can understand that in both Norse and Germanic as well as Anglo-Saxon belief the Alfar, who were roughly equivalent to the Irish Sí, were seen as a semi-divine race of beings that were often placed alongside the Gods.
Robert Kirk's book Secret Commonwealth, based on his 17th century experiences with fairies, says: "These Siths, or fairies... are said to be of a middle Nature betwixt Man and Angel, as were Dæmons[i] thought to be of old." (Kirk, 2007). This also shows the idea of the fairies as beings that exist above humans but below Gods in the universal hierarchy.
Evans Wentz, writing 200 years later says: "In the Book of Leinster the poem of Eochaid records that the Tuatha De Danann, the conquerors of the Fir-Bolgs, were hosts of siabra; and siabra is an Old Irish word meaning fairies, sprites, or ghosts." (Evans Wentz, 1911) This connects the Irish Tuatha de Danann, often seen as the old pagan Gods, with the fairies. Wentz goes on to say: "In the two chief Irish MSS., [manuscripts] the Book of the Dun Cow and the Book of Leinster, the Tuatha De Danann are described as 'gods and not-gods'; and Sir John Rhys considers this an ancient formula comparable with the Sanskrit deva and adeva, but not with 'poets (dée) and husbandmen (an dée)' as the author of Cóir Anmann learnedly guessed." (Evans Wentz, 1911). Some modern authors do indeed see the reference to "Gods and not-Gods" as referring to the division between the people of skill and the common laborers, however I agree with Rhys that it more likely refers to the separation of the Gods and the fairies, in the same way that we see the Aesir and Alfar referred to in the Norse/Germanic material. There are many additional references in Irish myth to the sí, particularly the riders of the sí, acting with or at the request or direction of the Gods. It can be difficult to discern if these references are meant to indicate that the riders of the sí are the Tuatha Dé Danann or if they represent a separate force under the command of the Tuatha Dé, but I tend to favor seeing them as the "not-gods" who are allied with the Gods. If this is accepted along with the references to the fairies existing between men and Gods, then it becomes clear that the fairies exist as beings part of but separate from the Gods, and would likely have arrived in Ireland before the Gods and have been in the mounds before the Gods were driven into them.
Are the fairies the "not-Gods" of Irish myth? It is impossible to know with certainty, but it is a possibility, and one I embrace. Whether they are or not, it can be said that they have long been viewed as powerful beings that are less than Gods but more than humans and should be given our respect. Using the framework of the old Fairy Faith provides an excellent way to do this.
Within the loose category of the term ‘fairy’ there are a huge array of different beings and it is far beyond the scope of this book to discuss them all, however it’s important for us to look at several specific types...
It’s also always best to keep in mind that although we are seeking these beings out as allies and even friends, they must be treated with respect and caution. As Terry Pratchett said:
“Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvelous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
No one ever said elves are nice.”
[i] Daemon - "(in ancient Greek belief) A divinity or supernatural being of a nature between gods and humans." https://www.google.com/search?q=definition+daemon&oq=definition+daemon&aqs=chrome.0.69i57j0l3j69i62l2.6419j0&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8