Look closely. You might see them hiding amid the trees, roaming about the rolling hills, or swimming deep beneath the rippling waves. Listen carefully, and you might hear the sickening sweetness or their song. If you’re not careful, your feet might betray you and begin dancing, a response to their beautiful and terrifying enchantments.
They are the Fair Folk, the Little People, the aes sídhe (the people of the mounds), and they have lived in the nooks and crannies of Ireland (and surrounding areas) for as long as anyone can remember.
Over the years, many have adopted a wholly incorrect image of the sídhe, one complete with sparkling wings and a height of about three to four inches.
The truth is, the sídhe look just like humans, albeit a terrifyingly beautiful or sometimes horrifyingly grotesque version of a human. But they don’t have wings, and they certainly don’t sparkle.
They also live life similarly to humans, enjoying music and dance, and often partaking in game playing – an activity that is often assisted by humans.
It is an oversimplification to say they are just like us, however.
The sídhe have been compared to many other mythical creatures, including fairies and elves, but there are two origin tales that storytellers in Ireland have subscribed to over the years: mythological origins and historical origins.
From a mythological perspective – which is steeped in Christian influence – it is believed the sídhe are fallen angels, expelled from Heaven following a loss of their own divinity. This interpretation does not make clear what they did to be cast out – only documenting that that their wrongdoings were not vile or misguided enough to justify casting them into Hell.
The more traditional origin story, and the one most used by Celts, states that the sídhe are descendants of the Tuatha Dé Danann (the People of Goddess Danu). This version claims that the Tuatha Dé Danann existed on the Irish landscape before the Celts laid their claim upon it, eventually forced to the magical Otherworld – hidden from human dwellers – that, many believe, remains the home for the sídhe today.
Despite living in different realms, the sídhe and humans have frequently crossed path over the years – something that has been well documented though Celtic poems and folk stories.
It is said that during dusk and dawn, the world of the sídhe and the human world being to merge. The sídhe leave their dwellings at nightfall, roaming the Earth until dawn, when they retreat back to their world and hide.
These interactions have caused some to question the moral intentions of the sídhe, with many wondering if, at their core, they are either good or bad. The answer neither and/or both. Most believe the sídhe to be benevolent or morally neutral tricksters who enjoy toying and having mostly harmless fun at the humans’ expense. But there is some evidence to suggest they can be quite wicked.
There is the changeling – a deformed offspring of the sídhe – best known for kidnapping and trading places with human children as an offering to the devil, or as a way to strengthen the sídhe bloodline. There is also the Leanan Sidhe, an evil fairy vampire and cousin of the hugely popular Leprechaun (himself a shifty trickster); the Bean Sidhe, or banshee, which is considered the harbinger of death; the Dullahan, the infamous headless horseman. And one cannot forget the Pooka, considered by many to be one of the most feared of the sídhe due to its proclivity towards mischief and its ability to shape shift into a number of scary forms.
Despite it all, the Celts have maintained a deep respect for the sídhe – whether from fear or adoration remains unclear – for generations and have made a habit of leaving small offerings to them as a way to demonstrate this reverence.
And so, should you find yourself entwined with the sídhe, small trinkets, baked sweets, or virtually anything dairy-based, is sure to keep them happy and on your side.