Quarterly Bestiary: Aos Si: The Complicated Neighbors

The word “fairy” can refer to many different types of mythical beings. Both the teeny winged fairies still popularly pictured and the wilder human-sized fae of YA and adult fantasy novels often reflect a patchwork of source material. Since it would take many posts to adequately cover all those sources, I’m going to focus on the aos sí of Ireland today. A fair amount of modern fairy lore hearkens back to these Good Neighbors, who, like most neighbors, were never really good or bad. They were simply their own people, with their own motivations and standards.

Thank you to Lotus Laura for suggesting today’s topic! Laura expressed interest in “something along the lines of mermaids or fairies.” I’m planning to cover both of these, though I’ll hold off on mermaids for now since they aren’t quite in line with the “little people” theme of Quarterly Bestiary this year. That said, Laura has a new novel out that features some fascinating mermaids! If that sounds like the perfect summer treat, please check it out!

Artwork by Bridget Sarsen.

Sí Who Must Not Be Named

The aos sí are a folk with many names. They are often referred to as “sídhe,” one of several variations on the modern Irish “sí” along with “sídh,” and “síth” (Scottish),1 all pronounced “shee.” Though treated as meaning “fairy,” a “sídhe” is actually a burial “mound” or hill.2 The names “daoine sí,” “síogaí,” and “aos sí” reference their tendency to live in these hills.3 A long taboo against saying “sí” and even “fairy” has led to a variety of euphemisms, such as “Fair Folk,” “Good Neighbors,” “Gentry,” “Little People,” and “Wee Folk.” The last two attempt to diminish them, while calling them “good” aims to encourage benevolence to humans.4 The name taboo may reflect a belief in true names giving power over the named or summoning them, though I haven’t confirmed this was a traditional part of Irish fairy lore.

Just like “fairy,” “sí” could refer to a range of supernatural beings and phenomena. A “bean-sídh” or banshee (“bean” meaning “woman”) could mean a female spirit whose wailing lament foretold death or a “sorceress.”5 Likewise, a “fear-sí” could indicate a male member of the aos sí or a druid.6 The “Leannán Sidhe” or “Fairy Lover” seduced and inspired artists in order to feed off their energy.7 There were “Cat Sìth” and “Cu Sìth,” cats and dogs of sí nature, and the sí gaoithe or “fairy wind” might carry aos sí warriors or simply bad luck and illness.8 Céol-Sidhe or “fairy music” could imbue mortals with musical talent,9 but it also entranced and its tones might haunt people “to their death.”10 Similarly, those who consumed sí food or drink would wither away longing for another world if they returned home.11 Beware messing with any path or potential dwelling of the aos sí, such as “raths (ancient forts), lisses (abandoned homesteads),”12 and single trees, especially their favored hawthorn.13 Really, anything produced or claimed by the aos sí might hold a hint of their power. 

Ringfort or Rath in Rodanstown townland, Co. Meath, Ireland. Many raths might be homes to the aos sí. Photo by Kmcnamee, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sí’s Got the Look (and the Power)

Despite their power, aos sí often go unnoticed. That’s not surprising, since they are frequently “invisible to mortal eyes” and skilled shapeshifters besides.14 Both abilities may owe more to “glamour,” illusions that trick human senses, than to literal transformation. Only people with “the second sight” are likely to recognize the aos sí unless they reveal themselves. When they do, they often appear as tall, richly-dressed people in gray or green clothing. Often they have otherworldly beauty and are pale with either brown or gold hair. However, the changelings they swap with human babies are generally described as “wizened,” hairy, and “hideous.”15 Those seeking to “spy” on mortals may “appear like old men and women,”16 and I’ve seen mention of “fairies of the earth [who] are small and beautiful.”17 Traditional aos sí do not, however, have wings.

Though the mounds might be where they appeared to live, the aos sí technically dwell in an entirely different world. Their “homes” on this plane are merely portals to this Otherworld, whose names include Mag Mell (Plain of Delight), Tír na mBan (Land of Women), and Tír na nóg (Land of Youth).18 With a few exceptions, both the aos sí and their world are without aging and death. All are beautiful paradises, with Tír na nóg automatically manifesting the desires of inhabitants.19 Since the aos sí have a right to all lost treasure, their palaces shine with gold and diamonds.20 White quartz or “Clocha Geala” was especially associated with them, considered a “fairy stone” found only in their hills and something that should never be used in the construction of human houses.21 Once, angry evicted families might wish unending bad luck on whoever took their home by placing quartz stones in a fire to summon the aos sí brimming with “righteous malevolence.” Today, the more healing properties of the stone are better remembered.  

White quartz or Clocha Geala was originally considered a fairy stone. Photo by Peter Du00f6pper on Pexels.com

Neighborly Interactions

A host of misfortunes were blamed on the aos sí. If angered, they might strike with fairy shot, causing “paralysis, madness, blindness or permanent lameness.”22 Alternately, they might pinch and poke through the night or bring bad luck and illness on people. Such attacks usually resulted from slights or disrespect, such as building over a “fairy path” and not making sure the front and back doors aligned to keep the path accessible. Speaking ill of them, especially on Friday when they were most present and powerful,23 was another good way to earn their wrath. They sometimes interfered in hurling and wrestling because they disliked the “violent” nature of such games,24 despite their own willingness to be violent in punishment. 

Perhaps the most feared sí danger was abduction. Beautiful babies and young adults might be swapped with a changeling or simply taken, sometimes to supplement a chronic “low birth rate.”25 Stolen mortal girls might be sacrificed to “the Evil One,” supposedly necessary every seven years.26 Theft was often not connected to offense, so aggressive methods were used to thwart it. Primroses and salt created protective wards,27 and wearing red or carrying iron also protected against sí powers.28 Tossing urine at them would send the “fastidious” aos sí flying.29 Fire was the strongest weapon. Changelings were often tested with fire, as even those pretending death would leap away from flames. 30 Another test was leaving them overnight in an “open grave.”31 Parents might trick or bargain to undo the trade. In one case the sí mother helps because she never agreed to the exchange and wants her child back.32 And sometimes, the human parents might actually raise the changeling.

Bonfires during Beltane and Samhain protected against sí mischief. Photo by Adonyi Gu00e1bor on Pexels.com

There were many ways to protect against aos sí anger, but the best was proper respect. Since they had “a right to whatever is spilt or falls on the ground,”33 it was courteous to leave them some grain or milk where it fell. Nightly offerings of food, milk, and wine were also expected plus some water to bathe in and warm coals left in the fireplace. When pleased, they paid by “blessing” and even occasionally in pots of gold. Sometimes even their abductees returned with compensation. Human doctors and midwives taken to tend aos sí could return with knowledge or gold if they kept their heads. The “fairy doctors” who treated sí-related problems among humans were typically women who had been stolen away to the Otherworld, where they lived for seven years or until “they grew old and ugly.”34 Their special skills and knowledge was the trade for their lost time.

Just as they might hurt without cause, the aos sí could show spontaneous kindness too. Mortals taken to the sí realm often receive warnings and aid from one of the aos sí despite others trying to tempt them. A figure known as the “Red-haired Man,” who may or may not be of the sí himself, is a frequent rescuer.35 He also appears in a tale where the aos sí use their tricks to scare a domestic abuser into gentler ways.36 Sometimes sí beings “helped the poor” by sharing riches and advice with them,37 particularly Leprechauns. Given the enchanting abilities of aos sí, it’s hard to say how much consent was involved in relationships that produced “children of the Sidhe and a mortal mother,” who were said to grow “clever and beautiful” but with volatile emotions.38 There were cases of aos sí/human friendship, however, so it’s possible there were genuine romances as well.     

Misty Origins

So what are the aos sí, exactly? Since they live in burial mounds and often rub elbows with spirits of the “newly dead,”39 some have suggested they are themselves ghosts or perhaps ancestral spirits. Others categorize them as “nature spirits” since they favor wild woodlands and water.40 A Christianized explanation claims they are former “angels” whose pride led to banishment on Earth.41 This origin divides them into three types: sea fairies (possibly including mermaids!), earth fairies, and demonic fairies who train evil witches. Their antagonism towards humans is said to be because the aos sí have deathless life as long as the world lasts but, lacking souls, will simply disappear when the end times come.

One commonly discussed origin for the aos sí is as descendants or remnants of the Tuatha Dé Danaan. As I mentioned in my post on Tolkien’s Elves, the Tuatha also had an unclear status. Many—Dagda, Brigid, Morrigan, Lugh, Danu—are treated as deities today. Yet ambiguous textual references have created disagreement over whether they were deities or heroes, and Danu’s very existence is questioned.42 Some sources call them “gods-but-not-gods.”43 Whatever their identity, the Tuatha are said to have crossed the sea to take Ireland from the Fomorians and sometimes the Fir Bolg, reigning supreme until the Milesians or Sons of Mil (humans) arrived and drove them into the sídhe to become the aos sí. Or possibly to join the aos sí who already lived there.

The Tuatha and the aos sí are similar but not necessarily the same. Both are tall, have ageless beauty and strong horse-riding skills. The claim that aos sí can’t or won’t lie may come from the Tuatha, who suffer if they break a promise since “their word is their bond.”44 Yet the Tuatha carried “weapons and tools of iron,”45 likely crafted by their smith Goibniu or even Brigid. Iron is often depicted as harmful to aos sí and other fairies, though that may have been a later addition based on Roman encounters with bronze-wielding Briton warriors.46 Some have argued that the aos sí are the “unskilled” commoners of the “People of Skill.”47 Their leaders and royalty do usually have different names.  However, there is a “Lugh” in both ranks. Whether this indicates two Lughs, a “Danann High King” and the father of the half-sí warrior Cú Chulain,48 or one individual who was somehow both is unclear.

Warriors of the Tuatha Dé Danaan or a host of aos sí enjoying a ride? John Duncan’s “Riders of the Sidhe” (1911), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Paths of Fairy

Fairies as we think of them today are woven from several different mythological threads. The word traces back to the French “Faeries” whose aliases “Fées” and “Fêtes” point to a connection with the Latin “fata” or “fate.”49 These Brittany faeries were pictured as wearing white and being extremely beautiful despite the mussels and algae growing on their backs. Abductions and changelings appear in several cultures, including Norwegian trolls, while the Seelie and Unseelie Courts frequently seen in YA fantasy hail from Scottish lore. The aos sí likely contributed glamour (literally) and maybe also the warning against eating in fairyland. Several fairy kings and queens have Irish roots. Usually King Finvarra and Queen Oona are less well known than Queen Mab, depicted as historical and human in the Táin Bó Cúailnge as Queen Medb, or Titania and Oberon from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare was also one of the first to describe fairies as minuscule,50 which led to the tiny flowery fairies of Victorian England. 

“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”51

            ~ “The Stolen Child,” W. B. Yeats – 1865-1939

The aos sí took on the name “fairies” and some of the popular fairy characteristics as time went on. Poets like W.B. Yeats used them during the late 19th century as symbols bolstering Irish nationalist pride, claiming that Irish “fairies were more genuine” than English fairies.52 The quote above is the call of a sí-like fairy tempting away a human child. It’s possibly the most frequently quoted of Yeats’ fairy lines. I’ve seen it again and again, though the version that haunts me comes from the Torchwood episode “Small Worlds.” The team faces off against mostly invisible, not-so-beautiful fairies seeking to claim young Jasmine as their latest “Chosen One.”53 Unlike traditional changeling/abduction tales, Jasmine genuinely desires to go with the fairies, and in the end Jack respects her choice.

Aos Sí/ Fairy Tales

Aos sí remain so tightly woven together with “fairies” that it’s often difficult to separate them in media. The “Fair Folk” in Zen Cho’s delightful “Monkey King, Faerie Queen” (thank you to Amanda @ Bookish Brews for introducing me to this short story!) seem mostly based on the aos sí. The court may include an English Barghest, but they live underground and are referenced as “the Good Neighbors.”54 The BBC show Merlin includes beings identified as “Sídhe” who nonetheless look more like popular fairies. The main one shown is a tiny, winged man with blue skin. In other cases, beings labeled only as “fairies” might show aos sí characteristics.

One of my favorites of the latter is Michelle Harrison’s 13 Treasures series. The complex fairy ecosystem Harrison creates is primarily British, but elements from Scottish, Irish, and French lore appear. Terms like “glamour” and “second sight” will ring familiar to sí scholars, as will the use of salt, iron, and red clothing as fairy protection. The character of “Red,” a second-sighted girl working against the changeling trade to recover her stolen brother, especially resonates with sí themes. Tanya is trapped in an underground passage with one entrance “through a grave” when she first meets Red.55 A bit like the Red-haired Man, Red teaches Tanya more about protecting herself from fairies and also shows up to save her from an attempt to send her to the other world.

Sometimes the aos sí appear with their original name and mythology mostly intact. The Sidhe series by Cindy Cipriano presents a mostly positive view. The Hobayeth clan of Sidhe are treated as evil, but half-Sidhe protagonist Calum and his Aessea clan mother are more than willing to get along with humans. The Goodreads reviews hint at the presence of sí gaoithe whirlwinds alongside such updates as Pluto being the Sidhe world. On the opposite end of the spectrum stands Peadar O’Guilin’s The Call, which imagines the Aes Sídhe as “Tuatha Dé Danann” banished to hellish Grey Land by the ancestors of the Irish.56 Kept alive mainly through Dagda’s Cauldron, which here resurrects and heals rather than supplying endless food,57 the Sídhe steal, mutate, and kill Irish teens in vengeance. Though not entirely flat monsters, these Sídhe are truly terrifying with the sadistic glee and their ability to re-form human flesh with a touch.

Efnisien sacrifices himself to destroy the cauldron of rebirth. 1906. Though said to be an Irish treasure, the Pair Dadeni or Cauldron of Rebirth was actually from a Welsh tale. Similar cauldrons appear in 13 Treasures and The Call. T. Prytherch, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of the wealth of information out there on the aos sí. And they’re just one type of “fairy!” Sometime I’d also like to look into the faeries of Brittany, but that will take more digging. As for the aos sí, what do you think of what I’ve shared here? Were you familiar with the term aos sí or sídhe before or is this your first time seeing it? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Also, if you’ve read or watched other media featuring sí beings, please share!  

Sources
  1. Mac Ritchie, David, “Notes on the Word ‘Sidh,’” The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 3, no. 4 (Dec., 1893): 367-379. JSTOR (25508068). 367.
  2. “The Sidhe, the Tuatha de Danaan, and the Fairies in Yeats’s Early Works,” California State University Northridge, Sep. 25, 1998, accessed Mar. 4, 2020, http://www.csun.edu/~hceng029/yeats/funaro.html.
  3. Daimler, Morgan, “The Good Neighbors: Fairies in an Irish and Scottish Cultural Context,” Air n-Aithesc, Imbolc/Bealtaine 2015, accessed July 14, 2021, https://www.academia.edu/12251990/The_Good_Neighbors_Fairies_in_an_Irish_and_Scottish_Cultural_Context.
  4. Bismarck, Julie, “The Sidhe (or Aos Si) – the Kings and Queens of the Fairies,” Celtic Lady, posted Mar. 8, 2010, accessed July 15, 2021, http://celticanamcara.blogspot.com/2010/03/aos-si-kings-and-queens-of-fairies.html.
  5. Mac Ritchie, 373.
  6. Mac Ritchie, 377.
  7. Bismarck.
  8. Daimler.
  9. Lady Wilde, Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland (Boston: Ticknor and Company, 1888), 30. Accessed through HathiTrust, July 20, 2021, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hn1sfz&view=1up&seq=1.
  10. Lady Wilde, 133.
  11. Lady Wilde, 74.
  12. “The Sidhe.”
  13. Bismarck.
  14. Daimler.
  15. Lady Wilde, 90.
  16. Lady Wilde, 263.
  17. Lady Wilde, 38.
  18. Broderick, Shane, “The Evolution of the Irish Otherworld,” Ireland’s Folklore and Traditions, posted July 26, 2019, accessed Mar. 4, 2020, https://irishfolklore.wordpress.com/2019/07/26/the-evolution-of-the-irish-otherworld/.
  19. zteve t evans, “Exploring the Otherworld of the Celts,” #FolkloreThursday, posted Mar. 18, 2021, accessed July 14, 2021, https://folklorethursday.com/legends/exploring-the-otherworld-of-the-celts/.
  20. Lady Wilde, 257.
  21. Thompson, Tok, “Clocha Geala/Clocha Uaisle: White Quartz in Irish Tradition,” Béaloideas Iml. 73 (2005): 111-133. JSTOR (20520880). 115.
  22. “When Fairies Attack,” Emerald Isle, accessed July 21, 2021, https://emeraldisle.ie/index.php?p=when-fairies-attack.
  23. Lady Wilde, 210.
  24. Lady Wilde, 259.
  25. Daimler.
  26. Lady Wilde, 7.
  27. Lady Wilde, 74.
  28. Lady Wilde, 104.
  29. “The Sidhe.”
  30. Lady Wilde, 40.
  31. Lady Wilde, 39.
  32. Lady Wilde, 230.
  33. Lady Wilde, 50.
  34. Lady Wilde, 114.
  35. Lady Wilde, 32.
  36. Lady Wilde, 33.
  37. “The Sidhe.”
  38. Lady Wilde, 91.
  39. Daimler.
  40. Bismarck.
  41. Lady Wilde, 37-38.
  42. McGrath, Sheena, “The Ambiguous Status of the Tuatha De Danann,” We Are Star Stuff, posted May 30, 2020, accessed Feb. 3, 2021, https://earthandstarryheaven.com/2020/05/30/tuatha-de-danann/.
  43. Daimler.
  44. Kinniburgh, Annie, “The Noldor and the Tuatha Dé Danaan: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Irish Influences,” Mythlore 28, no. 1/2 (107/108) (Fall/Winter 2009): 27-44. JSTOR (26815461). 35.
  45. Isaac, Ali, “The Blacksmith in Irish Mythology,” Irish Mythology, posted May 10, 2020, accessed July 28, 2021, https://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com/post/the-blacksmith-in-irish-mythology.
  46. Dean, Remy, “Ferrous Friend or Foe? How Iron Became the Enemy of Fairy Folk,” #FolkloreThursday, posted June 22, 2017, accessed July 14, 2021, https://folklorethursday.com/folklore-of-archaeology/ferrous-friend-foe-iron-became-enemy-fairy-folk/.
  47. Daimler.
  48. Isaac, Ali, “The Fairy Folk of Ireland,” Irish Mythology, posted May 12, 2020, accessed July 15, 2021, https://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com/post/the-fairy-folk-of-ireland.
  49. Christensen, L. A., trans, “Faeries in Upper Brittany, France,” Dragons, Faeries, Space & Stars, posted Dec. 11, 2019, accessed July 14, 2021, https://lachristensen.wordpress.com/2019/12/11/faeries-in-upper-brittany-france/.
  50. Daimler, Morgan, “Why Do We Envision Fairies As Tiny?,” Living Liminally, posted June 22, 2021, accessed July 15, 2021, https://lairbhan.blogspot.com/2021/06/why-do-we-envision-fairies-as-tiny.html.
  51. Yeats, W.B., “The Stolen Child,” Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, accessed July 28, 2021, https://poets.org/poem/stolen-child.
  52. Fimi, Dimitra, “‘Mad’ Elves and ‘Elusive Beauty’: Some Celtic Strands of Tolkien’s Mythology,” Folklore 117, no. 2 (Aug., 2006): 156-170. JSTOR (30035484), 161.
  53. Torchwood, “Small Worlds,” episode 5, series 1, directed by Alice Troughton, written by Peter J. Hammond, BBC, Nov. 12, 2006.
  54. Cho, Zen, “Monkey King, Faerie Queen,” Kaleidotrope, Spring 2015, https://kaleidotrope.net/archives/spring-2015/monkey-king-faerie-queen-by-zen-cho/.
  55. Harrison, Michelle, 13 Treasures (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009), 176.
  56. O’Guilin, Peadar, The Call (New York: Scholastic Inc., 2016), 80.
  57. zteve t evans, “Ancient Celtic Cauldrons: The Magical, the Mythical, the Real,” #FolkloreThursday, posted Feb. 11, 2021, accessed May 12, 2021, https://folklorethursday.com/legends/ancient-celtic-cauldrons-the-magical-the-mythical-the-real/.

27 thoughts on “Quarterly Bestiary: Aos Si: The Complicated Neighbors

  1. I enjoyed reading your post this morning. And you really got me thinking about my favourite representation of such creatures. The Tinkerbell type and wee folk is nice, but I think I prefer the more sophisticated being. I am glad you have highlighted the importance of respect to these beings as it is often the start of various shenanigans when the important ritual of sharing food is not observed by the offender. Small Worlds is an awesome episode and really cemented Torchwood as a favourite TV series for me.

    I have been familiar with the aos sí or sídhe for quite some time. Perhaps my favourite representation of the sídhe (or the Seelie Court) is in the Deverry Cycle by Katherine Kerr. Her blend of the Irish perspective and the Scottish perspective with the Welsh Annwn is delicious. She is an amazing writer and I couldn’t wait for the next book in this series to be released. She is perhaps, from my perspective, the only writer that can mix up timelines where you want to see what happens next. This is because the key characters are “reincarnated” in each timeline as they chase each other through time.

    It’s a big subject and I think you have captured one of the key pillars. I am looking forward to what comes next 😊

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you! Ah, yes, many a mythological misadventure could have been prevented through sharing food or simple politeness. I think it’s a good reminder that treating everyone with respect regardless of their apparent status isn’t just moral but helpful in the long term.

      I agree, “Small Worlds” was amazing! I love how Jack and Estelle disagree about whether the fairies are all good or all bad, but in the end they just have their own goals and they don’t care how their actions look to humans. The ending is also something I will remember for a long time. It was unexpected and yet, really, it made more sense for things to happen that way.

      Wow, I will have to look for this Deverry Cycle! I love stories that twist through various timelines. And with the other themes and mythological influences you mention, it just sounds entrancing!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I wonder if the idea that fairies were fallen angels contributed to the depiction of them with wings. Along the same lines, maybe it isn’t that fairies are fallen angels, but that angels are fairies who serve as heavenly messengers.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s an interesting idea, about the angel connection contributing to the wings! I’ve been wondering when the wings appeared and why.

      I did notice that there were stories in Lady Wilde’s “Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland” that involved both angels and fairies. Maybe that means the fairies weren’t always seen as “fallen.” Interestingly, in Chinese and Korean media, “fairy” is often used as a translation for the celestial maidens who serve the heavenly deities. The Japanese version–“Tennyo”–have been compared to angels.

      Like

  3. Amazing job! It really is a huge topic to tackle and you kept it manageable. It’s also an exciting topic!
    The earliest reference to the dwellers of the síde as gods, as far as I know, comes from the 7th c ecclesiastic Tírechán, who refers to them as “earthly gods” or likens them to earth deities. The mentions of earth gods in Irish texts are interesting. It’s certainly possible that beliefs about earthbound gods developed into modern folklore about fairies. An 11th c source mentions disciples of St. Patrick staying in Ireland forever and that it is fitting on certain auspicious days to leave food and ale out for them. A contemporaneous text relates a nearly identical story about the mythological fomóire guardians. If I’m not mistaken (and I may be) off the top of my head one or two fomóire share names with St. Patrick’s men. Anyway those are the earliest references I know of to mention a clear tradition about leaving food for magical beings.
    You know about Finvarra? That’s outstanding! Could you tell me about him in folk tradition? I haven’t found any reliable sources beyond medieval MSS. That guy is neat though.
    There is some scholarship that the “gods/not gods” in the case of “dee agus andee” is a misunderstanding of the pre-Christian belief of “andedion” or underworld gods found on an uncovered stone tablet. The prefix “an-“ can be a negator, as the Irish author clearly took it for, but also can be an intensifier that reflects an older form like “underworld”. Fascinating stuff!
    Great job and I can’t wait for more!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you!

      Wow, impressive work tracking that down! “Earthly gods” does seem to fit the Tuatha and also the nature spirit theory. The skills the Tuatha possess mostly seem connected to earthly things. Metal with the smiths, plants with the healers, horses and warriors. Not a lot of water and air activity. I’m pretty sure some of them were associated with rivers, though, and I ran into claims that they arrived in ships flying within dark clouds. The ship thing was used to compare them to aliens/UFOs, but personally I think Dimitra Fimi’s suggestion that they just burned their ships and the “clouds” were smoke makes more sense.

      Interesting about St. Patrick’s men and the fomóire. I haven’t studied either in depth, but could see how those two might have become connected.

      Well, I don’t know how much I know about Finvarra. 😅 Most of what I learned about him came from Lady Wilde’s “Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland.” Her stuff about the “Irish race” is pretty suspect and full of Aryan references, but her descriptions of fairy lore seemed ok. She mentions that Finvarra was very fond of stealing mortal women. In the story of “Ethna the Bride,” he even steals a woman his human friend is about to marry and only gives her up when the man starts digging down to Finvarra’s realm. Which is a bit odd, since the mounds and such were supposed to be just portals. Maybe it’s like the old “digging to China” sort of concept.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ya, it can be pretty impenetrable trying to make sense of everything, lol. As an amateur, I’d enthusiastically say that from the Sancti Pauli charm in Old Irish featuring oracular phantoms of wild animals and warrior huntsmen, and the similar Welsh tale of Melerius, that nature spirits/deities were a part of ancient Celtic belief. Tírechán’s emphasis on earthly gods probably reflects that to a certain degree, but making such a clear distinction between indigenous “earthly gods” and the biblical God of heaven probably provided a means for early Irish Christians to write positively about these beings. Authors would keep these competing traditions from “stepping on each other’s toes”. So just HOW MUCH of these traditions about the Tuath Dé and Fomóire really reflect underworld or nature “andedion” is totally up for debate. I personally doubt there were no sky gods in the pagan Celtic belief system. All Indo-European religions had some sort of god(s) in the sky, I can’t believe the Celts were any different. Thx for letting get that out! In fact, I’ve got a whole theory about the underworld gods. Mind if I float it by you? Thx, it’s a collab! An inscription of a Celtic god from southern Germany mentions “Jupiter Arubianus” aka Jupiter the farmer. Though that’s a long way off from Britain and Ireland, I think it does reflect a pan-Celtic myth. The idea survived in Germanic: Thor’s hammer Mjǫllnir has a PIE root meaning to crush and has a ties to Old Norse for “wheat flour”. The Irish cognate also means to crush, and the Welsh cognate evidently means lightning bolt. Plenty of Tuath Dé characters figure in agriculture, and what’s more, a recurring set of plot elements feature in those tales. The 8th c “How Angus won the Brug” tells of Dagon (dag=good, wheat) the father of Angus and a Tuath Dé king, after being driven underground by the Milesians, destroyed crops until peace was settled between both sides. A later tale says the same about An Dagda, and elaborates further that he controls weather and crops. The 9th c (with an 11th c redactor) “Second Battle of Mag Tuired” relates the war between the Tuath Dé and Fomóire. The Fomóire are banished from the land, but not before Lugh captures Bres. The two then make peace and Bres reveals good days for agriculture. The 12th c “Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel” relates Mac Cecht (plow’s son, lad of the plow) the giant warrior who battled with the Fomóire and took three of their chieftains as a surety that weather and crops would be excellent. This is a quick summary of the most relevant texts. Anyway, I think a story emerges from these different textual traditions: a strife between two mythological groups that results in the banishment of one group into an underworld, later a peace is made, and possibly there is an exchange of persons from each side in a goodwill gesture to cement peaceful relations. All of this can only be a suggestion, but I think that there’s enough evidence to make the case for readers to judge.

        Yes, the Tuath Dé’s first appearance is debated. The Lebor Gabála Érenn describes the Tuath Dé arriving in Ireland in clouds of mist in their perfect knowledge. Cath Mag Tuired says that really they burned their ships, creating steam.

        That does jibe with what I’ve read of Finvarra. I’ve got a great big theory about him too. Lol but another time. It is weird that some versions allow for the possibility of digging to the otherworld 😂!!!
        Thanks for letting me bore you to tears!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh, I’m sure there were Celtic sky deities of some sort. But as you say, there’s so much uncertainty about their pre-Roman beliefs and so many things that have gotten filtered. For instance, there are a whole bunch of places in the Táin Bó Cúailnge/Cattle Raid of Cooley where men who otherwise seem to respect Queen Medb make very pointed remarks about her female rule being unnatural and disastrous. I have to suspect some of the 11th century transcribers of the tale threw those in to keep things in line with the narratives of their times.

          That does sound like an intriguing pattern! I’d heard of Thor having an agricultural connection, but it’s a little startling to think of Jupiter the farmer. Then again, maybe I’m really thinking of Zeus, who tended to focus on a different kind of “sowing.” It does seem like a lot of sky gods were also linked to agriculture, which isn’t surprising when you consider how much impact weather has on crops.

          Actually, your conclusion about how the clash of powers drives one into the underworld makes me think of some of the Russian pantheon stuff I dug up. Peres, the thunder/sky god, is in constant strife with Veles, the watery god of the underworld who also had connections to livestock and the forest. Veles, who keeps trying to rise up only to be crushed again, is very similar to the Leshy, a forest god sometimes considered to predate the Peres-ruled pantheon. Of course, the Russian pantheon suffers from the same lack of clear and/or objective written sources as the Celtic one. Oh, one more. The agricultural god Jarilo also gets routinely sent to the underworld, first because Veles kidnaps him and then because he cheats on his wife and she kills him. Repeatedly. His death and rebirth were interpreted as the cycle of the seasons, how wheat grows then dies then grows again.

          Thanks for sharing your ideas! I’m curious to see what more you dig up on the underworld gods connections, and I’d love to read your Finvarra theory!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I think your observation about the Táin is an astute one. Now I should state that the Ulster Cycle has many great tales that I believe substantially reflect pre-Christian Celtic mythological narratives, and even Cú Chulainn-centric texts have real gems, and he himself may be rooted in some mythological character, especially in the oldest stratum of extant tracts, but as we have it I think his nexus of tales are the most adapted post-Christianization. It can’t be a coincidence that tales about Finn (or any other hero, really) find so much harmony in independent traditions elsewhere, like Wales but not Cú Chulainn. Take for instance an episode that I do think is ultimately mythological: the death of Ferdia in the Tain. It’s three against two at a water source where the hero kills his adversary by a spear which’s magical killing potential is activated by being plunged in water, the hero is sorrowful afterwards. Compare to two other tales, one about Finn, another about a hero named Mug Ruith: a fight of three against two at a water source where the hero slays his adversary by plunging not a spear but a ~ magic stone ~ into the water to activate its killing potential, the hero is regretful for having to kill his adversary. Since these stories have stones and the Tain has a spear, I would reckon them to be the earlier form. There’s also a great deal more details in common with the Finn and Mug tales in contrast to the Tain than what I’ve written here, but I think that this is enough for now to highlight that even in the best case, Cú Chulainn appears to be the odd one out and most likely to have been distorted at a late date. I commend you for suspecting likewise, me and you get it, we’re on the same wavelength here. Lol!
            Lol ya Zeus. It’s amazing cuz he’s such a clod. 🤣 But sowing and “sowing” were figuratively analogous in the human mind… That’s a pretty could point you make, really. An Dagda does have the epithet “Great Father” and there seems to be a tradition about his thang for water nymphs.
            Where do you get your info about Slavic mythology? It’s my (fleeting) understanding that much has been reconstructed from sources. I’d like to see some research that you know is valid!
            Ack, the Finvarra theory is gigantic, it’s part of my crazy speculations about the blacksmith goddess, ha! I’m working on part two now. Ug I even have a finished bit of writing to post… but whatever it’s more fun being here instead.
            Talk to you soon!

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            1. Oh, I definitely agree that Cú Chulainn seems to be both strongly influenced by later rewrites and also to have an older mythic core. The arrangement of him having a human mother, a human father, and a Sidhe father (with the name of a god) seems like it might be biblically inspired. Yet I was also really struck by how, in the Táin, he is called upon not only for his strength but for his ability to read and write Ogham letters. Several times he writes messages in this ancient script that Medb and Ailill have to have interpreted by someone of similar ancient knowledge. I’m really going to have see if I can find a complete copy of the rest of the Ulster Cycle someday so I can get the full view of these characters and the world they fit into.

              True, I sometimes forget about that aspect of “sowing.” 😅 I guess it just seems like going at it like Zeus would be really bad for, you know, actually planting crops.

              Most of my overall information on Russian/Slavic mythology came from Brendon Noble’s site and http://www.starisloveni.com. I decided Noble was a fairly researched source because he points out problematic evidence for gods like Chernobog and Belobog. I found a couple books through Internet Archive, a few papers from Wikipedia citations, and sometimes I just put in search terms with “site:.edu” to try to weed out the stuff about American Gods or Pintrest posts. Is there a particular topic you’re interested in?

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              1. Oh wow I never considered that Lugh as his guardian/potential father might be a Biblical messianic influence! That’s a very compelling suggestion. I’ve looked for other Cú Chulainn-like characters in other Celtic traditions to assess my (and your) suspicions, and I have a couple suspects with vague similarities to him, one from the Finn Cycle and one Welsh derived French Arthurian character named Caradog Freichfras… But that’s a different post. Godddd I have to freaking knuckle down and start writing. And I swear I’m gonna get back to Dinotopia as well.
                That’s true that Cú Chulainn is also depicted as very learned. I tend to forget that; the Ogham stuff probably reflects some older ideas and your very right to bring that up. I hope you read a bunch more texts as well so we can dork out together about it! Lol.
                Zeus and An Dagda are gods, they don’t get tired. 🥱😂
                Thanks for the link! I’m curious about the deities Svarog and Dazhbog. A legend mentioning him as the first blacksmith and his institution of monogamy is interesting in comparison to other legends. So ya have a fun rest of your weekend!

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Thanks! I think I missed the story about Svarog starting monogamy, but yeah, that’s interesting. Such a contrast from Zeus! 😂 I sure wish I could borrow some of that divine stamina for finishing up some posts. Oh, well. Just keep swimming…🐟

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                  1. Ya it seems very out of place when you think about the typical behavior of deities! Zeus gets a lot of flack but Poseidon loves the ladies just as much, lol. Anyway I’m interested in the blacksmithing aspects and monogamy for my blacksmith goddess stuff. I’m about half way through part 2 – and ya I wish I could get some of that focus/drive/stamina of a thunder god to finish it off. 😂
                    But yo what do you have on the docket?

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. Oh, yeah, it’s not like Zeus was the only one. Apollo was actually pretty scary sometimes, when you think about it from the perspective of the ladies he chased. 😅

                      Hmm, I’m working on a Loki review while I gag my way through the Dinotopia mini-series for the next. By the way, the Internet Archive has the full episodes. I don’t know what to think about seeing James Gurney listed as a co-producer of that 💩.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. Whoa, Apollo? Nothing springs to mind, but if it’s scary i think I’m cool with not knowing. At least Zeus would be innocuous about it like visiting mistresses as light sprinkles of rain. Now that’s class! 😂 Actually as for head scratching love trysts, there’s an Irish legend where a man pines so much for a woman that he transforms into a woman himself to be near her. They evidently have a child; who the hell knows how that works!! But funnily enough the 12th c cleric Jocelyn mentions that the common people say this was how Saint Kentigern of Glasgow was born. He condemns it as poppycock. Academics nowadays wonder what the tale could have been like, and I grit my teeth and think how’s it’s all right there in Irish. I gotta do a post on that too. Anyway rant off, sorry about that lol.
                      Loki? So cool! The Norse figure or the comic book character?? Obviously I’m on pins and needles for your Dinotopia review, there’s no way it won’t be the greatest thing ever 😆 😆!!!
                      James Gurney libeled like that is awful. I hope he was compensated for that. But honestly sometimes you take the money and run. I remember watching an interview with Greg Sestero (the blonde guy from the movie The Room) saying he didn’t want to be in the film until he was handed a check so large he wouldn’t have to “work for a year.” 😮 I’m all for artistic integrity but maaaan would I have a hard time passing up that much lucre. Btw have you seen Tommy Wiseau’s The Room? Funniest bad movie ever! I endorse a viewing if you haven’t seen it!

                      Liked by 1 person

                    3. Well, that’s an interesting strategy! And of course there’s a saint involved. 😂 Odd, why does that sound familiar…Oh, they had something similar in the recent Legend of White Snake show. Except in that case, the “man” was originally female and the love stayed one-sided so no children. I am definitely going to have to look into this Irish tale! Or maybe I’ll just wait for your post. I know it’ll be a fascinating topic in your hands!

                      Oh, just catching up with a couple of the media Lokis I talked about last year. Summer this year hasn’t been the best, but hey, I got to see two shows with great takes on Loki! 😁

                      Yeah, a big payoff was my theory too. I sure hope they didn’t make him endorse it as well. That would be so cruel. 😥 You know, I recently found out that Derek Landy, author of the hilarious Skullduggery Pleasant series, nearly had a terrible movie version. He actually bought his rights back, though, which is awesome! I wish more authors were willing to hold firm on quality adaptations.

                      I have not seen The Room. Perhaps I will have to take a look!

                      Liked by 1 person

                    4. Hi, sorry for the little delay! I’m trying to write up a post but I’ve hit a very difficult roadblock in my argument and it’s giving me a $@&!!! headache! How’re you doing? Happy weekend! I hope the heat isn’t too much!
                      You should definitely read it! I’ll try to dig it up for you. Loki out of everybody in the Norse Pantheon is endlessly fascinating and your stuff will be top-notch.
                      That sucks that summer has been rough.
                      Speaking of authors, how’s that fiction writing coming along?
                      The Room is a cult movie that you watch ironically for all the unintentional humor. Back when movie theaters were a thing people would dress up as characters, in tuxedos, red dresses, etc. Lol! Fun times! Here’s an honest trailers, but the whole thing is funny ->
                      There are censored out explicit scenes, just heads up.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    5. Hmm, hitting a roadblock while working on a post sounds familiar. 😅 Although for me, it’s usually lack of time or temperature woes. I hope you’re able to renegotiate your path soon! The weather’s getting more tolerable here, so I hope that holds true for you as well.

                      Ah, fiction writing. Well, I have a nice collection of rejection slips started, but I’m taking it as a sign that I need to work on a different project for now. I’m brimming with ideas too, so that’s cool.

                      Ooo, I love honest trailers! Thank you!

                      Liked by 1 person

                    6. I’m glad we all experience obstacles during the writing process, not just lunkheads like me. Lol. I’ve figured out the path forward but it’s taken the wind out of my sails somewhat, to use the cliche. Glad the weather’s better, it’s still very warm down south.

                      You should be proud of putting yourself out there! Those other publishers will kicking themselves when you’re negotiating a film deal! I’m sure your ideas are all worth a million!

                      Yep, good stuff, and I promise you you’re missing out on one of the most premium bad movies of all time if you skip a viewing of The Room. Lololol!

                      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks SO MUCH for the shoutout!!!!! 😀 Lovely article you have written. Thanks for providing the pronunciation because I would’ve had no idea how to say that! The whole “true name” concept reminds me of many other mythological stories, especially the Egyptian myth of Isis stealing the sun god Ra’s power by tricking him into speaking his “true name.” All these mythological names are most likely “covers” or “nicknames” for the true word, which I can believe holds great power. Also, the fear of abduction and changeling concept is certainly frightening. Since recently learning about the changeling myth, I’ve had so many questions, like why do these innocent babies have to be sacrificed to this “evil one”?! Or does it ever happen without the knowledge of their true parents? It’s a crazy concept. Also, I would totally leave offerings out for these spirits, like food and wine — if I didn’t have to worry about insect infestation. Sorry Spirits!!! Haha. Anyway, amazing post! You really covered so much. Can’t wait to hear the next topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I have a hard time remembering that “si” equals “shee” in Irish, so I thought I better mention it. I really want to learn Irish at some point, but it’s pronunciations are often not intuitive from an English-speaking perspective.

      Oh, yes, there are a lot of cultures that see true names as holding power! At certain points in Korean history, people went primarily by nicknames and only told their personal names to those closest to them for that reason. It’s fascinating.

      With changelings, the sacrifice idea is only one possibility (thankfully). From what I read, the story is that the fairy people are forced to send a girl every seven years, and they take mortals because none of the fairies wants to send their own daughter. With the aos si, I mainly saw coveting the beauty of a baby as the reason for stealing. I think it’s Norway where elderly trolls sometimes become changelings in order to get care until they die. And the parents usually know. The only stories I read where they didn’t catch on right away was when the changeling plays dead and someone else has to tell the poor parents their real baby is still alive.

      Ha, yeah, I always wondered how the offering thing worked on a practical level. 😂 I mean, water for bathing would be fine as long as it’s changed daily to prevent mosquitos getting established, but leaving out food…I’d worry something that was definitely not a good neighbor would get there first! 🦟

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        1. There are similar creatures who resemble little people or who are spirit beings around the world, but “fae” is more or less a European concept. The term comes from Latin and/or French and a lot of the concepts that link fae types together–like changelings and Otherworlds–mainly occur in a cluster of European cultures. There are modern cryptid sightings of fae-like beings in America, but I’m not sure that those are quite the same as American fae.

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