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Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Slua Sí

This week's blog is an excerpt from my forthcoming book Fairies, because of an experience my husband and I had last night.
We were sitting in our living room around 10 o'clock last night when the wind picked up suddenly, so strong and loud that I turned to my husband and noted that it was a bit scary. Then just as suddenly on the wind was the distinct sound of bells jingling, like you find on horses' harnesses sometimes, which really freaked me out, and I said, "Can you hear that?"
He said, "What? The bells? Yeah, what is that?"
And I honestly didn't know what to say because I knew it was probably the Slua or maybe a Fairy Rade and it was really scaring me.
But he pushed and was like, "I know you know more about this stuff than I do, what do you think it is?"
So I told him, "Not all fairies are nice."
He wanted to go out to smoke. I told him in all seriousness to be careful - mind you we live in the suburbs - and if he saw anything to come back in. He asked saw anything like what? And I said I didn't know like if he saw any horses. And he rolled his eyes and asked me several times why there would be a horse in our neighborhood? So I just kept saying if you see or hear one come back in right away.
He goes out, and within 90 seconds comes back in, because he saw a strange red light and could hear horses' hooves on the stone.
And now a few minutes later the wind is gone and its totally calm.
Also I had to give my husband a crash course on who the Slua Sí are and what to do in emergency situations like that.
So, on that note, a bit about the Slua sidhe....

Slua Sí

I have already mentioned that some fairies are more naturally kindly inclined towards us than others, and some are generally more malicious. Those that fall under the auspices of the Unseelie Court are generally feared but one type that is especially feared is the Slua sí [fairy host]. In Scottish folklore the most daunting fairies are those of the Sluagh (Briggs, 1976). The Slua travels in whirlwinds, or on the wind more generally and because of this the whirlwind is called the séideán sídhe [fairy blast] or sitheadh gaoithe [thrust of wind] and sometimes by the similar sounding name of sí gaoithe [fairy wind] (O hOgain, 1995; MacKillop, 1998). Usually invisible to mortal eyes while traveling in the form of a wind, in Scotland the Slua is also said to appear in the form of clouds (Carmichael, 1900). The Slua is most likely to be active at midnight and most often appears at night in general, but can show up at any time, sometimes startling farmers working in the fields (Evans Wentz, 1911). Anyone who had reason to be out at night, and more so if they were out alone, needed to be careful to avoid the fairy host.

The Slua sí were known to force a human to go along with them while they engaged in their malicious endeavors, making the unlucky person aid them in their activities (O Suilleabhain, 1967). These endeavors often included kidnapping other people including brides, a common theme in many different types of fairy stories, and doing the new victim mischief. Anyone caught out alone, especially at night, or in a place they shouldn't be in could be swept up by the Slua with little choice but to go along with the Fairy Host until they were released. People taken this way might be said to be "in the fairies" (O Suilleabhain, 1967). In folklore people taken by the Slua sí could be taken and left far away, sometimes in foreign countries with no option but to find their way slowly home, or else may be returned to the place where they were taken mostly unharmed. The Slua is utterly capricious in how they treat those they take.

There are also tales of those who were out walking at night and saw another person who had been or was being taken by the Slua, usually as the Slua was passing near the bystander. A folk method to get the Host to release anyone they may have taken is to throw the dust from the road, an iron knife, or your left shoe towards them while saying "This is yours; that is mine!" (McNeill, 1956).Those known to have been taken and released were gone to for advice relating to the fairies and seen as being quite knowledgeable about them, just as those who had more amicable relationships with the fairies were (O Suilleabhain, 1967).

The Slua may include fairy horses, hounds, and a variety of fairy beings, as well as the human dead. In Scotland some people believe that the Slua sí, who are also called the fairy host of the air, are spirits of those humans who died with unforgiven sins or filled with sin (McNeill, 1956; Briggs, 1976; Carmichael, 1900). Evans Wentz related stories of the Slua as both the mortal dead and as fallen angels, showing that the belief was not entirely clear-cut (Evans Wentz, 1911). In Irish folktales related by authors like Yeats and Hyde however the fairy host are distinct from the human dead and act like fairies in other tales, engaging in behavior such as stealing human brides to force them to wed members of their own group. ...[T]here is no simple division to be found here and it is likely that the Slua represent both fairies who were never human and some who may once have lived as humans but are now counted among the fairy host.

The fairy host, like other fairies, is usually invisible to humans but can be sensed in the appearance of a sudden wind and the sound of voices, armor clinking, or people shouting (O Suilleabhain, 1967). Hyde describes it in the story "Guleesh Na Guss Dhu" this way: "he heard a great noise coming like the sound of many people running together, and talking, and laughing, and making sport, and the sound went by him like a whirl of wind..." (Hyde, 1890, p 76). Some say the Slua appears as a dust devil which moves over roads and hedges as the Good Neighbors travel (JCHAS, 2010). When the whirlwind appeared people would react by averting their eyes, turning their backs, and praying, or else saying "Good luck to them, the ladies and gentlemen" (O hOgain, 1995; JCHAS, 2010, p. 319). This of course reflects the common practice of appeasing the more dangerous fairies both by speaking of them in polite, positive terms and also of wishing them well, giving a blessing in hopes they respond in kind. This was done to avert any harm caused by the close proximity of the Host and to hopefully avoid drawing their attention in a negative way. The sí gaoithe [fairy wind] which indicated the Slua was present, could bring illness or cause injury as it passed by, contributing to its fearsome reputation (MacKillop, 1998).

The Slua was known for being mercurial and prone to malicious behavior and unlike more sedentary types of Fair Folk they are not easily appeased but most often must be warded off, usually with iron, driven away, or out-witted. They are strongly associated with the Unseelie court and one Queen of the Unseelie, Nicnevin, in particular.


MacKillop, J., (1998) A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
McNeill, M (1956). The Silver Bough, volume 1
O Suilleabhain, S., (1967). Nosanna agus Piseoga na nGael
O hOgain, D., (1995) Irish Superstitions
Briggs, K., (1976). A Dictionary of Fairies
Carmichael, A., (1900) Carmina Gadelica
Evans Wentz, W., (1911). The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
Hyde, D., (1890) Beside the Fire
JCHAS (2010) Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society

The Slua is sometimes seen as related to the idea seen on the continent of the Wild Hunt as spirits who travel the air and can take people.

1 comment:

  1. I have really enjoyed reading through this blog. I am so glad I stumbled upon it and you! I am looking forward to your book. I see it is scheduled to come out the end of this year. Are there pre-sales?