Fairies According To Wirt Sikes
Note, the following are edited excerpts and the full text typically has expanded descriptions and witness testimonies. This provides a starting point for further investigation and research. The Sidhe are an important aspect of my Left Hand Path and represent significant Lesser Powers. Further attention will be given to the subject in future posts.
Asrai…are small, delicate, female fairies. They cannot be exposed to sunlight, or captured; else they will melt away into a pool of water.
Banshee… The bean-sidhe (woman of the fairy may be an ancestral spirit appointed to forewarn members of certain ancient Irish families of their time of death. According to tradition, the banshee can only cry for five major Irish families: the O’Neills, the O’Briens, the O’Connors, the O’Gradys and the Kavanaghs. Intermarriage has since extended this select list.
Whatever her origins, the banshee chiefly appears in one of three guises: a young woman, a stately matron or a raddled old hag. She usually wears either a grey, hooded cloak or the winding sheet or grave robe of the unshriven dead. She may also appear as a washer-woman, and is seen apparently washing the blood stained clothes of those who are about to die. In this guise she is known as the bean-nighe (washing woman). The banshee may also appear in a variety of other forms, such as that of a hooded crow, stoat, hare, and weasel – animals associated in Ireland with witchcraft.
Bogles…generally evil-natured Goblins, although they are more disposed to do harm to liars and murderers.
Brownies…have traditionally attached themselves to humans and human households. Traditionally they are friendly and genuinely helpful.
Bwbach, or Boobach, is the good-natured goblin which does good turns for the tidy Welsh maid who wins its favour by a certain course of behaviour recommended by long tradition. The maid having swept the kitchen, makes a good fire the last thing at night, and having put the churn, filled with cream, on the whitened hearth, with a basin of fresh cream for the Bwbach on the hob, goes to bed to await the event. In the morning she finds (if she is in luck) that the Bwbach has emptied the basin of cream, and plied the churn-dasher so well that the maid has but to give a thump or two to bring the butter in a great lump. Like the Ellyll which it so much resembles, the Bwbach does not approve of dissenters and their ways, and especially strong is its aversion to total abstainers.
Changeling… Variant: stocks
It appears that fairy women all over Ireland find birth a difficult experience. Many fairy children die before birth and those that do survive are often stunted or deformed creatures.
The adult fairies, who are aesthetic beings, are repelled by these infants and have no wish to keep them. They will try to swap them with healthy children who they steal from the mortal world. The wizened, ill tempered creature left in place of the human child is generally known as a changeling and possesses the power to work evil in a household. Any child who is not baptised or who is overly admired is especially at risk of being exchanged.
It is their temperament, however, which most marks the changeling. Babies are generally joyful and pleasant, but the fairy substitute is never happy, except when some calamity befalls the household. For the most part, it howls and screeches throughout the waking hours and the sound and frequency of its yells often transcend the bounds of mortal endurance.
A changeling can be one of three types: actual fairy children; senile fairies who are disguised as children or, inanimate objects, such as pieces of wood which take on the appearance of a child through fairy magic. This latter type is known as a stock.
Puckered and wizened features coupled with yellow, parchment-like skin are all generic changeling attributes. This fairy will also exhibit very dark eyes, which betray a wisdom far older than its apparent years. Changelings display other characteristics, usually physical deformities, among which a crooked back or lame hand are common. About two weeks after their arrival in the human household, changelings will also exhibit a full set of teeth, legs as thin as chicken bones, and hands which are curved and crooked as birds’ talons and covered with a light, downy hair. No luck will come to a family in which there is a changeling because the creature drains away all the good fortune which would normally attend the household. Thus, those who are cursed with it tend to be very poor and struggle desperately to maintain the ravenous monster in their midst.
One positive feature which this fairy may demonstrate is an aptitude for music. As it begins to grow, the changeling may take up an instrument, often the fiddle or the Irish pipes, and plays with such skill that all who hear it will be entranced.
Prevention being better than cure, a number of protections may be placed around an infant’s cradle to ward off a changeling. Iron tongs placed across the cradle will usually be effective, because fairies fear these. An article of the father’s clothing laid across the child as it sleeps will have the same effect.
Changelings have prodigious appetites and will eat all that is set before them. The changeling has teeth and claws and does not take the breast like a human infant, but eats food from the larder. When the creature is finished each meal, it will demand more. Changelings have been known to eat the cupboard bare and still not be satisfied. Yet no matter how much it devours, the changeling remains as scrawny as ever.
Changelings do not live long in the mortal world. They usually shrivel up and die within the first two or three years of their human existence. The changeling is mourned and buried, but if its grave is ever disturbed all that will be found is a blackened twig or a piece of bog oak where the body of the infant should be. Some live longer but rarely into their teens.
There can also be adult changelings. These fairy doubles will exactly resemble the person taken but will have a sour disposition. The double will be cold and aloof and take no interest in friends or family. It will also be argumentative and scolding. As with an infant, a marked personality change is a strong indication of an adult changeling.
Changelings may be driven from a house. When this is achieved, the human child or adult will invariably be returned unharmed.
The least severe method of expulsion is to trick the fairy into revealing its true age. Heat and fire are anathema to the changeling and it will fly away from it.
Coblynau are always given the form of dwarfs, in the popular fancy; wherever seen or heard, they are believed to have escaped from the mines or the secret regions of the mountains. Their homes are hidden from mortal vision. When encountered, either in the mines or on the mountains, they have strayed from their special abodes, which are as spectral as themselves
Dwarves…are stocky, short and powerful. They mature at 3 years old, and are gray and bearded by the age of 7. It is said they cannot appear in the light of day for to do so, would turn them to stone. However, there are potions and spells to help them endure the sunlight.
Dryads…are spirits that dwell in the trees, preferably oaks. The Druids turn to them for inspiration.
Dullahan… Variants: dullaghan, far dorocha, Crom Dubh
The dullahan is one of the most spectacular creatures in the Irish fairy realm and one which is particularly active in the more remote parts of counties Sligo and Down. Around midnight on certain Irish festivals or feast days, this wild and black-robed horseman may be observed riding a dark and snorting steed across the countryside.
Dullahans are headless. Although the dullahan has no head upon its shoulders, he carries it with him, either on the saddle-brow of his horse or upraised in his right hand. The head is the color and texture of stale dough or moldy cheese, and quite smooth. A hideous, idiotic grin splits the face from ear to ear, and the eyes, which are small and black, dart about like malignant flies. The entire head glows with the phosphorescence of decaying matter and the creature may use it as a lantern to guide its way along the darkened laneways of the Irish countryside. Wherever the dullahan stops, a mortal dies.
The dullahan is possessed of supernatural sight. By holding his severed head aloft, he can see for vast distances across the countryside, even on the darkest night. Using this power, he can spy the house of a dying person, no matter where it lies. Those who watch from their windows to see him pass are rewarded for their pains by having a basin of blood thrown in their faces, or by being struck blind in one eye.
The dullahan is usually mounted on a black steed, which thunders through the night. He uses a human spine as a whip. The horse sends out sparks and flames from its nostrils as it charges forth. In some parts of the country, such as County Tyrone, the dullahan drives a black coach known as the coach-a-bower (from the Irish coiste bodhar, meaning ‘deaf or silent coach’). This is drawn by six black horses, and travels so fast that the friction created by its movement often sets on fire the bushes along the sides of the road. All gates fly open to let rider and coach through, no matter how firmly they are locked, so no one is truly safe from the attentions of this fairy.
This fairy has a limited power of speech. Its disembodied head is permitted to speak just once on each journey it undertakes, and then has only the ability to call the name of the person whose death it heralds. A dullahan will stop its snorting horse before the door of a house and shout the name of the person about to die, drawing forth the soul at the call. He may also stop at the very spot where a person will die.
On nights of Irish feast days, it is advisable to stay at home with the curtains drawn; particularly around the end of August or early September. If you have to be abroad at this time, be sure to keep some gold object close to hand.
Unlike the banshee, the dullahan does not pursue specific families and its call is a summoning of the soul of a dying person rather than a death warning. There is no real defense against the dullahan because he is death’s herald. However, an artifact made of gold may frighten him away, for dullahan’s appear to have an irrational fear of this precious metal. Even a small amount of gold may suffice to drive them off.
EllylIdan is a type of elf exactly corresponding to the English Will-o’-wisp, the Scandinavian Lyktgubhe, and the Breton Sand Yan y Tad. The Welsh word dan means fire; dan also means a lure; the compound word suggests a luring elf-fire. The Breton Sand Yan y Tad (St. John and Father) [Keightley ‘Fairy Mythology,’ 441]is a double ignis fatuus fairy, carrying at its finger-ends five lights, which spin round like a wheel. The negroes of the southern seaboard states of America invest this goblin with an exaggeration of the horrible peculiarly their own. They call it Jack-muh-lantern, and describe it as a hideous creature five feet in height, with goggle-eyes and huge mouth, its body covered with long hair, and which goes leaping and bounding through the air like a gigantic grasshopper. This frightful apparition is stronger than any man, and swifter than any horse, and compels its victims to follow it into the swamp, where it leaves them to die.
Like all elves of this class, the EllylIdan was, of course, seen dancing about in marshy grounds, into which it led the belated wanderer.
Ellyllon are the pigmy elves who haunt the groves and valleys. The English name was probably derived from the Welsh el, a spirit, elf, an element; there is a whole brood of words of this class in the Welsh language, expressing every variety of flowing, gliding, spirituality, devilry, angelhood, and goblinism. Ellyllon (the plural of ellyll), is also doubtless allied with the Hebrew Elilim, having with it an identity both of origin and meaning. [Pughe’s ‘Welsh Dictionary.’ (Denbigh, 1866)] The hollows, or little dingles, are still the places where the peasant, belated on his homeward way from fair or market, looks for the ellyllon, but fails to find them. Their food is specified in Welsh folk-lore as fairy butter and fairy victuals, ymenyn tylwyth teg and bwyd ellyllon; the latter the toadstool, or poisonous mushroom, and the former a butter-resembling substance found at great depths in the crevices of limestone rocks, in sinking for lead ore. Their gloves, menyg ellyllon, are the bells of the digitalis, or fox-glove, the leaves of which are well known to be a strong sedative.
Fir Darrig…(Fear Deang) are practical jokers of a fearsome nature. They can assume any visage they wish.
Ganceann… A fairy which filled girls’ heads with pleasant fantasies and daydreams when they should instead be working. The name means “without a head” or “love talker,” and thus this fairy in particular is the personification of daydreaming.
Ganceann… Was also called Gancomer, and was considered to be a faerie who preferred to spend his time making love to milkmaids and shepherdesses.
Gnomes…are Earth Elementals. They live underground, and guard the treasures of the earth. They are wonderful metal workers, especially of swords, spearheads, and breastplates.
Goblins…is the name used for an uglier species of Fairy. They are small and malicious, and usually band together.
Grogochs… were originally half human, half-fairy aborigines who came from Kintyre in Scotland to settle in Ireland. The grogoch, well-known throughout north Antrim, Rathlin Island and parts of Donegal, may also to be found on the Isle of Man, where they are called ‘phynnodderee’. Resembling a very small elderly man, though covered in coarse, dense reddish hair or fur, he wears no clothes, but sports a variety of twigs and dirt from his travels. Grogochs are not noted for their personal hygiene: there are no records of any female grogochs. The grogoch is impervious to searing heat or freezing cold. His home may be a cave, hollow or cleft in the landscape. In numerous parts of the northern countryside are large leaning stones which are known as ‘grogochs’ houses’. He has the power of invisibility and will often only allow certain trusted people to observe him. A very sociable being, the grogoch. He may even attach himself to certain individuals and help them with their planting and harvesting or with domestic chores – for no payment other than a jug of cream. He will scuttle about the kitchen looking for odd jobs to do and will invariably get under people’s feet.
Gwragedd Annwn (literally, wives of the lower world, or hell) are the elfin dames who dwell under the water. I find no resemblance in the Welsh fairy to our familiar mermaid, beyond the watery abode, and the sometimes winning ways. The Gwragedd Annwn are not fishy of aspect, nor do they dwell in the sea. Their haunt is the lakes and rivers, but especially the wild and lonely lakes upon the mountain heights. These romantic sheets are surrounded with numberless superstitions, which will be further treated of. In the realm of faerie they serve as avenues of communication between this world and the lower one of annwn, the shadowy domain presided over by Gwyn ap Nudd, king of the fairies. This sub-aqueous realm is peopled by those children of mystery termed Plant Annwn, and the belief is current among the inhabitants of the Welsh mountains that the Gwragedd Annwn still occasionally visits this upper world of ours.
Gwyllion are female fairies of frightful characteristics, who haunt lonely roads in the Welsh mountains, and lead night-wanderers astray. They partake somewhat of the aspect of the Hecate of Greek mythology, who rode on the storm, and was a hag of horrid guise. The Welsh word gwyll is variously used to signify gloom, shade, duskiness, a hag, a witch, a fairy, and a goblin but its special application is to these mountain fames of gloomy and harmful habits, as distinct from the Ellyllon of the forest glades and dingles, which are more often beneficent.
Hobgoblins…Originally a general name for small, grotesque but friendly Brownie-type creatures. Hobgoblins were one or two feet tall, hairy, and naked or wearing brownish clothing. They lived by the flames of the fire and rarely went outside. They were described as friendly, impish, ugly, mischievous, good-humored, helpful, mean, grotesque, and fond of practical jokes. If annoyed, they would turn nasty.
Leprechauns… The name leprechaun may have derived from the Irish leath bhrogan (shoemaker), although its origins may lie in luacharma’n (Irish for pygmy). These apparently aged, diminutive men are frequently to be found in an intoxicated state, caused by home-brew poteen. However they never become so drunk that the hand which holds the hammer becomes unsteady and their shoemaker’s work affected.
Leprechauns have also become self-appointed guardians of ancient treasure (left by the Danes when they marauded through Ireland), burying it in crocks or pots. This may be one reason why leprechauns tend to avoid contact with humans whom they regard as foolish, flighty (and greedy?) creatures. If caught by a mortal, he will promise great wealth if allowed to go free. He carries two leather pouches. In one there is a silver shilling, a magical coin that returns to the purse each time it is paid out. In the other he carries a gold coin which he uses to try and bribe his way out of difficult situations. This coin usually turns to leaves or ashes once the leprechaun has parted with it. However, you must never take your eye off him, for he can vanish in an instant.
The leprechaun ‘family’ appears split into two distinct groups – leprechaun and cluricaun. Cluricauns may steal or borrow almost anything, creating mayhem in houses during the hours of darkness, raiding wine cellars and larders. They will also harness sheep, goats, dogs and even domestic fowl and ride them throughout the country at night. Although the leprechaun has been described as Ireland’s national fairy, this name was originally only used in the north Leinster area. Variants include lurachmain, lurican, lurgadhan.
Merrows… The word merrow or moruadh comes from the Irish muir (meaning sea) and oigh (meaning maid) and refers specifically to the female of the species. Mermen – the merrows male counterparts – have been rarely seen. They have been described as exceptionally ugly and scaled, with pig-like features and long, pointed teeth. Merrows themselves are extremely beautiful and are promiscuous in their relations with mortals.
The Irish merrow differs physically from humans in that her feet are flatter than those of a mortal and her hands have a thin webbing between the fingers. It should not be assumed that merrows are kindly and well-disposed towards mortals. As members of the sidhe, or Irish fairy world, the inhabitants of Tir fo Thoinn (the Land beneath the Waves) have a natural antipathy towards humans. In some parts of Ireland, they are regarded as messengers of doom and death.
Merrows have special clothing to enable them to travel through ocean currents. In Kerry, Cork and Wexford, they wear a small red cap made from feathers, called a cohullen druith. However, in more northerly waters they travel through the sea wrapped in sealskin cloaks, taking on the appearance and attributes of seals. In order to come ashore, the merrow abandons her cap or cloak, so any mortal who finds these has power over her, as she cannot return to the sea until they are retrieved. Hiding the cloak in the thatches of his house, a fisherman may persuade the merrow to marry them. Such brides are often extremely wealthy, with fortunes of gold plundered from shipwrecks. Eventually the merrow will recover the cloak, and find her urge to return to the sea so strong that she leaves her human husband and children behind.
Many coastal dwellers have taken merrows as lovers and a number of famous Irish families claim their descent from such unions, notably the O’Flaherty and O’Sullivan families of Kerry and the MacNamaras of Clare. Despite her wealth and beauty, you should be particularly wary about encountering this marine fairy.
Pixies…Often take the form of hedgehogs. They are mischievous fairies who enjoy playing practical jokes on humans and other fey folk. They also love to steal horses to ride and bring them back before morning with tangled and knotted manes. They can sometimes can be placated with gifts of food and milk left on the porch.
Phouka…Can appear in various animal forms and are considered to be dangerous. Variants: phouka, puca
The pooka is a feared fairy This may be because it is always out and about after nightfall, creating harm and mischief, and because it can assume a variety of terrifying forms.
The guise in which it most often appears, however, is that of a sleek, dark horse with sulphurous yellow eyes and a long wild mane. In this form, it roams large areas of countryside at night, tearing down fences and gates, scattering livestock in terror, trampling crops and generally doing damage around remote farms.
In remote areas of County Down, the pooka becomes a small, deformed goblin who demands a share of the crop at the end of the harvest: for this reason several strands, known as the ‘pooka’s share’, are left behind by the reapers. In parts of County Laois, the pooka becomes a huge, hairy bogeyman who terrifies those abroad at night; in Waterford and Wexford, it appears as an eagle with a massive wingspan; and in Roscommon, as a black goat with curling horns.
The mere sight of it may prevent hens laying their eggs or cows giving milk, and it is the curse of all late night travellers as it is known to swoop them up on to its back and then throw them into muddy ditches or bogholes. The pooka has the power of human speech, and it has been known to stop in front of certain houses and call out the names of those it wants to take upon its midnight dashes. If that person refuses, the pooka will vandalize their property because it is a very vindictive fairy.
The origins of the pooka are to some extent speculative. The name may come from the Scandinavian pook or puke, meaning ‘nature spirit’. Such beings were very capricious and had to be continually placated or they would create havoc in the countryside, destroying crops and causing illness among livestock. Alternatively, the horse cults prevalent throughout the early Celtic world may have provided the underlying motif for the nightmare steed.
Other authorities suggest that the name comes from the early Irish poc meaning either ‘a male goat’ or a ‘blow from a cudgel’. However, the horse cult origin is perhaps the most plausible since many of these cults met on high ground and the main abode of the pooka is believed to be on high mountain tops. There is a waterfall formed by the river Liffey in the Wicklow mountains known as the Poula Phouk (the pooka’s hole), and Binlaughlin Mountain in County Fermanagh is also known as the ‘peak of the speaking horse’.
In some areas of the country, the pooka is rather more mysterious than dangerous, provided it is treated with proper respect. The pooka may even be helpful on occasion, issuing prophecies and warnings where appropriate. For example, the folklorist Douglas Hyde referred to a ‘plump, sleek, terrible steed’ which emerged from a hill in Leinster and which spoke in a human voice to the people there on the first day of November. It was accustomed to give “intelligent and proper answers to those who consulted it concerning all that would befall them until November the next year. And the people used to leave gifts and presents at the hill…
Redcaps… A Red Cap or Redcap, also known as a powrie or dunter, is a type of malevolent murderous goblin. They inhabit ruined castles found along the border between England and Scotland. Redcaps are said to murder travelers who stray into their homes, sometimes by pushing boulders off cliffs and on to them, staining their hats with their victims’ blood (from which they get their name). Indeed, redcaps must kill regularly, for if the blood staining their hats dries out, they die. Redcaps are very fast in spite of the heavy iron pikes they wield and the iron-shod boots they wear. The most infamous redcap of all was Robin Redcap. As the familiar of Lord William de Soulis, Robin wreaked much harm and ruin in the lands of his master’s dwelling, Hermitage Castle. Men were murdered, women cruelly abused, and dark arts were practiced. Yet Soulis, for all the evil he wrought, met a very horrible end: he was taken to the Nine Stane Rigg, a circle of stones hard by the castle, and there he was wrapped in lead and boiled to death in a great cauldron..
Sluagh…is the host of the Unforgiven Dead, The most formidable of the Highland Fairies. The Sluagh were the spirits of the restless dead. Sometimes they were seen as sinners, or generally evil people who did not travel into the Pagan Otherworld and who had also been rejected by the Pagan deities and the earth itself. They are almost always depicted as troublesome and destructive. They are seen to fly in groups like flocks of birds, coming from the west, and were known to try to enter the house of a dying person in an effort to carry the soul away with them. West-facing windows are sometimes kept closed to keep them out. Some consider the Sluagh to also carry with them the souls of innocent people who were kidnapped by these destructive spirits.
Spriggans… Spriggans are diminutive members of the fairy kingdom, more closely related to sprites and boggles than goblins and dwarves. In the natural state, they could easily be mistaken for a cat if seen from a distance, due to their large luminous eyes, furry bodies, and long tails. But spriggans are otherwise only similar to cats in their complete disinterest in anything other than their own agenda – which, being of the nature of other faeries, changes from moment to moment. Being a prominent figure of faerie, they possess certain magical powers that allow them to change shapes at dramatic speeds, ranging in size from tiny insects to towering monsters. They can also travel instantly across vast distances in the blink of an eye.
Trolls…Have an aversion to daylight; in fact the rays of the sun petrify them into stone. They are frequently observed performing a curious lop-sided danced called ‘Henking’.
Urisk… The Urisk is a faerie resembling a goat-man that haunts pools of water and waterfalls near the Scottish Highlands. He is said to be lonely and often seeks out human companionship; however, the unusual nature of his physical appearance often frightens away anyone he tries to interact with. Like many fairy-folk, the Urisks are known to help farmers with their fields and others, but also like fairy-folk, they are known to torment and toy with those by following them through lonely places. (6)