It is a very strange thing! You’d be hard put to find a person these days who’d admit to believing in fairies. Yet there are almost as many names for these Otherworldly spirit guides as there are tales about them, courtesy of the Irish, Scots and the Welsh whose Under Milk Wood dreams still hover, at night, like silvery holographic films flickering under the Moon in the morphogenic fields …stretching down to the “sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea”.
The Irish faeries are known as the Tuatha da Danaan or the Sidhe (pronounced shay) and they are the guides to the ancestors in the Underworld. They are also the pilots who guide the shaman in trance along the Rivers of Blood to help them in redeeming their family line.
Then there’s the Scottish fae…. very much like their Irish cousins, which is hardly surprising since they come from the same mythological root stock. The beings who inhabit the parallel dimensions of the Highlands and Lowlands are called the Sith but it is also pronounced shay, like those on the Emerald Isle. There are too many races of Sith to name here but they include the Black Angus or Cu Sith – named after a faery dog, the Fachan – who are all as ugly as their tempers and to be avoided at all costs, and the Selkies who are seals in the lochs but who, from time to time, shapeshift into human form.
In Wales, we find the Tylwyth Teg (pronounced till-with-teeg) who are famous for their skills in alchemy, and you might catch a glimpse of them as we go along, riding through the skies on their yarrow stalks. They are divided into five races: the Ellyllon (elves), the Coblynau (dwarf miners), the Bwbachod (guardians of the hearth), the Gwragedd Annwn (well maidens) and the Gwyllion (crones or hags of the mountains).
Those who know them are respectful about using their names, because just naming them can call them. So, they are often referred to more obliquely as the Gentry, the Little People and the Dod, while to the Scots they are the People of Peace, the Prowlies, the Silent Moving Folk, the Wee Folk and the Pixies.
So yes, we really do have faeries living at the bottom of our gardens, although they rarely look like the tiny gossamer-winged Tinkerbell of Victorian fantasies, or the Moth and Peaseblossom of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. On the contrary, some of them are huge hags and giants, or have just one eye, one arm and one leg, while others are covered in fur. But more often than not, they look very much like you and me and if you passed one on the street on your way to the supermarket, you may not even notice them.
The Fae tend to live in prominent hollowed-out mounds, the Hollow Hills they’re called. Glastonbury Tor, for instance, is the home of the King of the Faeries, Gwyn ap Nudd, the guide of the souls of the dead into the Otherworlds, who he gathers up during his Wild Hunt.
These mounds are also known as sidhes and, in Scotland, burghs from which music can often be heard at night, especially during their fiddling, riddling and jigging cèilidhean on the cross-quarter festivals of Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain.
There are all sorts of stories about people who are out late on such nights and who stumble unwittingly upon these mounds. Some are never seen on Earth again or they may return a century later to find that all their friends and relatives are long dead and buried. However, those tales are usually just bastardisations of archetypal myths about the hero falling into the Underworld to redeem his ancestors, and then salted-and-peppered to become a cautionary tale of Christian clerics.
The Fae are the spirits of the land and so should not to be confused with goddesses or angels who are from another part of the World Tree, called the Upper World.
The Fae are often referred to as the Elders, because they “fell from the stars” at a much earlier Time than we did. In old folk tales that still survive in parts of the British Isles relatively untouched by modernism, it is said that the Fae came into incarnation on Earth at the First Utterance or primordial vibration. It is also told that the animals descended on the Second Utterance and we humans arrived on the Third.
*You have just been reading an extract from my book Stories in the Summerlands.