The Good People; The People Who Go Widdershins
Pronounced and sometimes spelled: Shee
Ireland; Scottish Highlands
The Gaelic word Sidhe has three meanings:
• “Barrow” or “tumulus”: ancient burial mounds often filled with treasure
• “Fairy” or “Fairies” (the word is singular and plural)
• As the sidhe that are Fairies often live within the sidhe that are barrows, sidhe also means “Fairy mound.”
When the Gaels successfully invaded Ireland, their predecessors, the divine Tuatha Dé Danaan were literally driven underground. They established their own parallel realms beneath the Earth. Fairy mounds are their portals. The Dagda, among the leaders of the Tuatha Dé Danaan assigned each member of the Tuatha Dé residence in a sidhe or mound. The Tuatha Dé Danaan became known as the Sidhe.
The key word regarding the Sidhe is beauty. They are magnificent, passionate, proud spirits who perceive themselves as worthy of veneration and intense respect: they accept (and perhaps expect!) small but consistent offerings such as dishes of milk placed out overnight on the windowsill or doorstep. There are male and female sidhe. They have an elaborately structured society that parallels that of humans.
The sidhe have an intense relationship with people, characterized by love and hostility. Once upon a time, they were the subject of passionate human veneration: hidden within fairy tales and legends are suggestions of Pagan devotion and voluntary channeling of spirits, similar to modern spiritual traditions such as African Diaspora faiths and Zar.
The Sidhe are master healers and may bestow this medical knowledge on those people they favour. So-called Fairy doctors combined herbal and shamanic healing and were trained directly by the Sidhe. On the other hand, the Sidhe also inflict illnesses like sudden tumors, stroke, and paralysis.
Sidhe stand accused of stealing humans, especially babies, children, midwives, and wet-nurses. The milk they expect as offerings may not always have been bovine; legends tell of Fairies accosting women and begging for a sip of human milk. They are generally not industrious spirits: their passions are dancing, music, poetry, and pleasure. They do raise cattle, which they sell or trade at fairs.
A ritual from the Scottish Highlands encourages bribing the Sidhe to save lives:
Sit on a three-legged stool at a three-way crossroads at midnight on Halloween.
Listen: voices will intone the names of those destined to die during the next twelve months.
This destiny may be avoided by returning to the spot with gifts for the Sidhe: one gift for each person whose destiny needs amending.
Most Sidhe are active from dawn until noon and then from dusk until after midnight.
The Sidhe are particularly active at Beltane (May Eve), Midsummer’s Eve, and Samhain (Halloween).
Barrow mounds associated with individual sidhe are well-known. Fairy forts, also known as ring forts or stone forts, are circular earthen banks or stone walls. There were once as many as sixty thousand of these circular earthworks in Ireland. Local names for them include cashel, forth, rath, or rusheen. Ring forts became known as Fairy forts because they are allegedly among the favourite haunts of Fairies. Ring forts can be physically and spiritually perilous, as many contain underground passages.
- Baobhan Sith
- Dagda, The
- Fairy Queen
- Leanan Sidhe
- Tuatha Dé Danaan
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.