Sunday, August 29, 2010
The Faerie Folk. The Gentry.
Aos sí, Daoine sídhe or Faerie Folk.
In Irish mythology the Aos sí (older form, Aes sídhe), pronounced ess shee, are a powerful, supernatural race comparable to the fairies or elves of other traditions. They are variously believed to live underground in the fairy mounds, across the western sea, or in an invisible world that coexists with the world of humans. In Irish they are also referred to as Daoine sídhe (deena shee).
Some sources describe them as the remaining survivors of the Tuatha Dé Danann who retreated into the Otherworld after they were defeated by the Milesians. According to the "Lebor Gabála Érenn" ("The Book of Invasions"), the Tuatha Dé Danann (also "daoine sídhe"), were defeated in battle by the Milesians - the mortal Sons of Míl Espáine.
As part of the surrender terms in their loss against the Milesians, the Tuatha Dé Danann agreed to retreat and dwell underground in the "sídhe" the hills or earthen mounds that dot the Irish landscape. Each leader of one of the tribes of the Tuatha Dé Danann was given one mound.
The fact that many of these "sídhe" have been found to be ancient burial mounds has contributed to the theory that the "aos sí" are pre Celtic occupants of Ireland.
In folk belief and practice, the "aos sí" are often offerings in order to win their favour, and care is taken to avoid angering or insulting them. Often they are not named directly, but rather spoken of with euphemisms such as "The Good
Neighbours," "The Gentry," "The Fair Folk," or simply "The Folk", in the hope that if humans describe them as kind, they are more likely to be so.
Aos sí are sometimes seen as fierce guardians of their abodes - whether that be a fairy hill, a fairy ring, a special tree (often a hawthorn), or perhaps a particular Lough or wood. The Otherworld is seen as being closer at the times of dusk and dawn; therefore this is seen as a time special to the Aos sí, as are some of the festivals such as Samhain and Midsummer. The Aos sí are generally described as stunningly beautiful, though they can also be terrible and hideous.
The Aos sí, commonly known today as ‘Fairies’, live all over Ireland. The places they live are called forts, raths, or mounds. A fairy king rules each of these places. At times it is said you can hear sounds of music and merriment coming from the fairy places. It’s believed that Turlough O’Carolan a famous Harper in the 18th century fell asleep on a fairy mound and received the gift of fairy music. This is what gives Celtic music its unique sound even today.
A favourite gathering place for Irish fairies is under a Hawthorne tree. These are usually encircled by a fairy ring of flowers. Certain Hawthorne’s are considered sacred in Ireland. As recently as 1999 in Latoon, County Clare a multimillion-pound highway was diverted so it wouldn’t uproot a lone Hawthorne tree. It was believed if the tree was disturbed everyone that drove on the new road would have bad luck. Irish fairy superstitions say it is best never to disturb these places.
Fairy paths are the routes fairies use to get from here to there and are all over Ireland. Never build a house on a fairy path. The best way to avoid this is to set four posts at the corner of the site overnight. If they are still standing in the morning then it is safe to build there. If any have fallen or are moved try another spot. You don’t want your house on a fairy path. You would never have any peace.
Some of the superstitions that are associated with fairies include:
A pair of shovels crossed at the mouth of a grave is believed to keep out malevolent fairies. This Irish fairy superstition is still practiced today in some parts of Ireland.
An Irish fairy sometimes takes people that seem to die or disappear to live in a fairy palace. If they are found by a friend or family member it is then possible for them to return to their earthly life even if found years later. When asked, they say they would gladly go back to the fairy palace.
Irish Fairy Queens sometimes fall in love with young athletic men and they later die for no apparent reason.
Young girls who are wanted for brides to Fairy Kings seem to pine away and die.
In the western islands of Connemara it is believed the dead can be heard laughing with the fairies and spinning flax at night. One girl swore she heard her dead mother's voice singing from inside a fairy mound. The laughing and singing lasts for a year and a day then stops.
Today it is believed that only the uneducated believe in fairies. The reason for this could be because the uneducated would be the only ones to admit to belief in fairies. Anyone else would never admit to your face this belief for fear of ridicule.
Secretly many people are careful not to offend the Good People. Up until the year 1700 virtually everyone in Ireland believed in fairies from royalty down to the rural peasants. Not even the arrival of Christianity in the fifth century could dispel this belief.
Old stories were told that included fairies. It was just taken for granted that these stories were all true because it was the natural order of things that they truly were part of the real world. As the science of the day began to find cures for mankind's aliments belief in Irish fairies began to decline, but not completely.
To this day in Ireland some people still practice rituals to appease the Good People even though they may not be aware of what they are doing. On May morning some people collect flowers especially primroses to spread around their doors and windows. This is done to keep out the malevolent fairies. They may or may not know why they do this. They would never admit to you or me why they do this and yet it is still done and I think that speaks for itself.