- Aos Sí
The aos sí (Irish pronunciation: [iːs ˈʃiː], older form aes sídhe [eːs ˈʃiːə]) are a supernatural race in Irish mythology comparable to the fairies or elves. They are said to live underground in the fairy mounds, across the western sea, or in an invisible world that coexists with the world of humans. This world is described in the Book of Invasions (recorded in the Book of Leinster) as a parallel universe in which the aos sí walk amongst the living. In the Irish language, aos sí means "people of the mounds" (the mounds are known in Irish as "the sídhe"). In Irish literature the people of the mounds are also referred to as the daoine sídhe (['diːnʲə 'ʃiːə]), and in Scottish Gaelic literature as the daoine sìth. They are said to be the ancestors, spirits of nature, or goddesses and gods.
Some later English texts have referred to the aos sí as "the sídhe". While this is linguistically incorrect it has become a widespread usage in English.
In Gaelic mythology
In many Gaelic tales the aos sí are later, literary versions of the Tuatha Dé Danann ("People of the Goddess Danu") – the deities and deified ancestors of Irish mythology. Some sources describe them as the survivors of the Tuatha Dé Danann who retreated into the Otherworld after they were defeated by the Milesians – the mortal Sons of Míl Espáine who, like many other early invaders of Ireland, came from Spain. Geoffrey Keating, an Irish historian of the late 17th century, equates Spain with the Land of the Dead.
In Gaelic folklore
In folk belief and practice, the aos sí are often appeased with offerings, and care is taken to avoid angering or insulting them. Often they are not named directly, but rather spoken of as "The Good Neighbors", "The Fair Folk", or simply "The Folk". The most common names for them, aos sí, aes sídhe, daoine sídhe (singular duine sídhe) and daoine sìth mean, literally, "people of peace". The aos sí are generally described as stunningly beautiful, though they can also be terrible and hideous.
Aos sí are sometimes seen as fierce guardians of their abodes – whether a fairy hill, a fairy ring, a special tree (often a hawthorn) or a particular loch or wood. The Gaelic Otherworld is seen as closer at the times of dusk and dawn, therefore this is a special time to the aos sí, as are some festivals such as Samhain, Beltane and Midsummer.
The sídhe: abodes of the aes sídhe
As part of the terms of their surrender to the Milesians the Tuatha Dé Danann agreed to retreat and dwell underground in the sídhe (modern Irish: sí; Scottish Gaelic: sìth; Old Irish síde, singular síd), the hills or earthen mounds that dot the Irish landscape. In some later poetry each tribe of the Tuatha Dé Danann was given its own mound.
In a number of later English language texts the word sídhe is used both for the mounds and the people of the mounds. However sidh in older texts refers specifically to "the palaces, courts, halls or residences" of the ghostly beings that, according to Gaedhelic mythology, inhabit them.
The fact that many of these sídhe have been found to be ancient burial mounds has contributed to the theory that the aos sí were the pre-Celtic occupants of Ireland. "The Book of Invasions", "The Annals of the Four Masters", and oral history support this view.
Others present these stories as mythology deriving from Greek cultural influence, deriving arguments mainly from Hesiod’s "Works and Days", which portrays the basic moral foundation and plantation techniques of the citizens of Greece and describes the races of men, created by the Greek deities.
The story of the Aes Sídhe is found all over Scotland and Ireland, many tales referring to how the Norse invaders drove Scottish inhabitants underground to live in the hills. This part of the legend contributes to the Changeling myth in west European folklore.
Types of aos sí
The Banshee or bean sídhe, which means "woman of the sídhe", has come to indicate any supernatural woman of Ireland who announce a coming death by wailing and keening. Her counterpart in Scottish mythology is the bean shìth (sometimes spelled bean-shìdh). Other varieties of aos sí and daoine sìth include the Scottish bean nighe – the washerwoman who is seen washing the bloody clothing or armour of the person who is doomed to die; the leanan sídhe – the "fairy lover"; the Cat Sìth – a fairy cat; and the Cù Sìth – fairy dog.
The sluagh sídhe – "the fairy host" – is sometimes depicted in Irish and Scottish lore as a crowd of airborne spirits, perhaps the cursed, evil or restless dead. The siabhra (anglicized as "sheevra"), may be a type of these lesser spirits, prone to evil and mischief. However an Ulster folk song also uses "sheevra" simply to mean "spirit" or "fairy".
- ^ O'Curry, E., Lectures on Manuscript Materials, Dublin 1861, p504, quoted by Evans-Wentz 1966, p291
- ^ MacKillop, James (2004) Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
- ^ Joyce, P.W. A Social History of Ancient Ireland, Vol. 1, p. 271
- ^ "The Gartan Mother's Lullaby" published 1904 in The Songs of Uladh, lyrics by Seosamh MacCathmhaoil (Joseph Campbell)
- Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of Invasions) in Lebor Laignech (The Book of Leinster)
- Annala na gCeithre Mháistrí (The Annals of the Four Masters)
- Leabhar Bhaile an Mhóta (The Book of Ballymote)
- Lebor na hUidre (The Book of the Dun Cow)
- Leabhar Buidhe Lecain (The Yellow Book of Lecan)
- Leabhar (Mór) Leacain (The Great Book of Lecan)
- Briggs, Katharine (1978) The Vanishing People: Fairy Lore and Legends. New York, Pantheon
- Carmichael, Alexander (1992) Carmina Gadelica: Hymns and Incantations. Hudson, NY Lindisfarne. ISBN 0-940262-50-9
- De Jubainville, H. D'Arbois and Richard Irvine Best (1903), The Irish Mythological Cycle and Celtic Mythology
- Evans-Wentz, W. Y. (1966, 1990) The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. New York, Citadel
- Keating, Geoffrey, A History of Ireland
- MacKillop, James (1998). Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. London: Oxford. ISBN 0-19-860967-1
- Nennius, The History of Britum
- Rolleston, T.W. (1902) Celtic Mythology
Irish mythology: the Mythological Cycle Early invaders Fomorians Fir Bolg Tuatha Dé DanannAbarta • Abcán • Abean • Aed • Aengus • Aí • Áine • Airmed • Anann • Badb • Banba • Bec • Bé Chuille • Bébinn • Boann • Bodb Derg • Brea • Bres • Brian • Brigid • Caer • Cermait • Cían • Clídna • Credne • Dagda • Danand • Danu • Delbáeth • Dian Cecht • Ecne • Egobail • Elcmar • Ernmas • Étaín • Ethal • Ériu • Fand • Fiacha mac Delbaíth • Finnguala • Flidais • Fódla • Fuamnach • Goibniu • Iuchar • Iucharba • Lén • Lí Ban • Lir • Luchta • Lug • Mac Cuill • Mac Cecht • Mac Gréine • Macha • Manannán • Miach • Midir • Morrígan • Nechtan • Neit • Nemain • Niam • Nuada • Ogma • Tuirenn • Uaithne
Milesians Others Places Texts part of a series on Celtic mythology
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