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Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Baobhan Sìth in Folklore vs my Fiction

 I recently gave a presentation 'Elves After Dark 2' in which I discussed several specific types of folkloric beings known to directly and intimately interact with humans. This included the Scottish Baobhan Sìth a being that I also include in my fiction and in the Q&A after the presentation I was asked about how the folklore differed from my interpretation in my Between the Worlds series. I answered the question then but thought this was a good topic to get into here as well, to offer an illustration of the way that fiction based in folklore differs from that folklore and why. 

main characters of Between the Worlds, art by Valerie Herron

To start I want to be clear that while there is very good fiction out there based on fairy folklore, no fiction that I have ever seen is 100% accurate to that folklore. Its just a fact that writing fiction means fitting the plot and that often means altering things. Some books alter the folklore so far that its basically only the folklore in the names beings used while others stay largely true to the source material. 
I have always endeavored in my fiction to be the second sort and stay as true as possible to the folklore I'm drawing on in my work which is heavily based on fairylore, however that said certain adjustments were made, so let's look at that here. 

Baobhan Sìth in folklore are somewhat obscure beings. The name itself means something close to 'dangerous female fairy'. We have one main thread of stories which are all almost identical, varying only slightly in the details. In these stories a small group of men goes out hunting in the woods and finds a small group of women just as the men have decided to seek shelter for the oncoming night. The group shelters together and one of the men provides some kind of music - singing or playing an instrument - while the rest dance with the strange women; one of the women lurks near the musician. At some point the musician notices his friends have gone oddly quiet or in some versions looks up and sees a bit of blood on one of his friends shirts and realizing the other men are dead or dying he flees. The women pursue him until he takes shelter among some horses whose iron clad hooves ward the fairies off. The next morning, the women having fled, the man goes to his town or village and gathers a group to seek out the now missing men; they find them all dead in the shelter. In most versions they have been drained of blood while in some their hearts have been removed. 
That is all quite consistent across the stories we do have. Now we also have some Victorian, Edwardian, and post-Edwardian era folklorists material that elaborates on these stories by adding detail. Particularly Mackenzie's 'Scottish Folk-lore and Folk Life' which more directly equates Baobhan Sìth to classic demons and eastern European vampires and also adds details more usually found with the Glastig, such as the wearing of a green dress to cover animal feet (goat hooves in the Glastig's case, deer hooves in the Baobhan sìth's) as well as claiming the Baobhan Sìth could take the form of a crow or raven. This has further been greatly elaborated in 21st century material which may or may not be pulling from Scottish folklore. 

Now in my fiction I do include a Baobhan Sìth, but I based her character on the older stories of these beings not the folklorists descriptions - so no green dress, or deer hooves*, or shapeshifting. She is, arguably, dangerous and in my fictional world Baobhan Sìth (under a phonetic spelling of that term) have a bad reputation because of the danger they present to everyone around them. I did take creative liberties, which I admit, in making my Baobhan Sìth something closer to a modern psychic vampire, feeding on emotions, rather than a traditional blood drinking vampire. I made this decision in part because it worked better with the story I was telling and also because the ambiguity of the older folklore, while implying a vampiric nature, doesn't explicitly state that the Baobhan Sìth drink blood rather than just kill their prey. I wanted a being that fit the broad strokes and worked within the framework of the folklore but also worked in the wider narrative I was telling so while I feel she is still strongly reminiscent of Scottish Baobhan Sìth folklore she isn't a template for that folklore or an exact replica of it. And while I generally make a lot of effort with my fiction to stay as true as possible to the source folklore there will always be places where things have to be nudged slightly one way or another to fit the wider story I am telling. 

When we have folklore in fiction it is always going to be along a spectrum of accuracy to that folklore. Some material will be much closer and some will be much further and many times how close or far the material is will be a matter of personal opinion. Anyone reading fairy folklore inspired fiction is best to remember though that it isn't folklore and shouldn't be treated as actual folk belief though and just enjoy it for the fiction that it is. 

*I do have a Glastig that shows up in one story which fits that folklore with the dress, hooves, and all. 

1 comment:

  1. The character which reveals itself as a Baobhan Sìth displays a psychological complexity rarely encountered in the genre. While the character does preserve the profile of the Boabhan Sith from the lore, it is developed and modified with finesse in order not only to fit into the plot, put to make the whole narrative more relatable for the contemporary reader. Excellent book, thought-provoking, entertaining, and inspiring in more than just one way.