The Recorded Fairy Faith
'So firm was the hold which the ethnic gods of Ireland had taken upon the imagination and spiritual sensibilities of our ancestors that even the monks and christianized bards never thought of denying them. They doubtless forbade the people to worship them, but to root out the belief in their existence was so impossible that they could not even dispossess their own minds of the conviction that the gods were real supernatural beings.'--STANDISH O'GRADY.
The Goddess Dana and the modern cult of St. Brigit--The Tuatha De Danann or Sidhe conquered by the Sons of Mil--But Irish seers still see the Sidhe--Old Irish MSS. Faithfully represent the Tuatha De Danann--The Sidhe as a spirit race--Sidhe palaces--The 'Taking' of mortals--Hill visions of Sidhe women--Sidhe ministrels and musicians--Social organization and warfare among the Sidhe--The Sidhe war-goddesses, the Badb--The Sidhe at the Battle of Clontarf, A.D. 1014--Conclusion.
For when the Sons of Mil, the ancestors of the Irish people, came to Ireland they found the Tuatha De Danann in full possession of the country. The Tuatha De Danann then retired before the invaders, without, however, giving up their sacred Island. Assuming invisibility, with the power of at any time reappearing in a human-like form before the children of the Sons of Mil, the People of the Goddess Dana became and are the Fairy-Folk, the Sidhe of Irish mythology and romance. 2 Therefore it is that to-day Ireland contains two races,---a race visible which we call Celts, and a race invisible which we call Fairies. Between these two races there is constant intercourse even now; for Irish seers say that they can behold the majestic, beautiful Sidhe, and according to them the Sidhe are a race quite distinct from our own, just as living and possibly more powerful. These Sidhe (who are the 'gentry' of the Ben Bulbin country and have kindred elsewhere in Ireland, Scotland,
Religious Nature of the Fairy -Faith
THERE is probably no other place in Celtic lands more congenial, or more inspiring for the writing down of one's deeper intuitions about the Fairy-Faith, than Carnac, under the shadow of the pagan tumulus and mount of the sacred fire, now dedicated by triumphant Christianity to the Archangel Michael. The very name of Carnac is significant; 1 and in two continents, Africa and Europe--to follow the certain evidence of archaeology alone 2--there seem to have been no greater centres for ancient religion than Karnak in Egypt and Carnac in Brittany. On the banks of the Nile the Children of Isis and Osiris erected temples as perfect as human art can make them; on the shores of the Morbihan the mighty men who were, as it seems, the teachers of our own Celtic forefathers, erected temples of unhewn stone. The wonderful temples in Yucatan, the temple-caves of prehistoric India, Stonehenge in England, the Parthenon, the Acropolis, St. Peter's at Rome, Westminster Abbey, or Notre-Dame, and the Pyramids and temples of Egypt, equally with the Alignements of Carnac, each in their own way record more or less perfectly man's attempt to express materially what be feels spiritually. Perfected art can beautify and make more attractive to the eye and mind, but it cannot enhance in any degree the innate spiritual ideals which men in all ages have held; and thus it is that we read amid the rough stone menhirs and dolmens in Brittany, as amid the polished granite monoliths and magnificent temples in Egypt, the same silent message from the past to the present, from the dead to the living. This message, we think, is fundamentally important in understanding the Celtic Fairy-Faith; for in our opinion the belief in fairies has the same origin as all religions and mythologies.
And there seems never to have been an uncivilized tribe, a race, or nation of civilized men who have not had some form of belief in an unseen world, peopled by unseen beings. In religions, mythologies, and the Fairy-Faith, too, we behold the attempts which have been made by different peoples in different ages to explain in terms of human experience this unseen world, its inhabitants, its laws, and man's relation to it. The Ancients called its inhabitants gods, genii, daemons, and shades; Christianity knows them as angels, saints, demons, and souls of the dead; to tin-civilized tribes they are gods, demons, and spirits of ancestors; and the Celts think of them as gods, and as fairies of many kinds.
By the Celtic Fairy-Faith we mean that specialized form of belief in a spiritual realm inhabited by spiritual beings which has existed from prehistoric times until now in Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, or other parts of the ancient empire of the Celts. In studying this belief, we are concerned directly with living Celtic folk-traditions, and with past Celtic folk-traditions as recorded in literature. And if fairies actually exist as invisible beings or intelligences, and our investigations lead us to the tentative hypothesis that they do, they are natural and not supernatural, for nothing which exists can be supernatural; and, therefore, it is our duty to examine the Celtic Fairy Races just as we examine any fact in the visible realm wherein we now live, whether it be a fact of chemistry, of physics, or of biology. However, as we proceed to make such an examination, we shall have to remember constantly that there is a new set of ideas to work with, entirely different from what we find in natural sciences, and often no adequate vocabulary based on common human experiences.
History of the Sidhe
The recorded mythology and literature of ancient Ireland have, very faithfully for the most part, preserved to us clear pictures of the Tuatha De Danann; so that disregarding some Christian influence in the texts of certain manuscripts, much rationalization, and a good deal of poetical colouring and romantic imagination in the pictures, we can easily describe the People of the Goddess Dana as they appeared in pagan days, when they were more frequently seen by mortals than now. Perhaps the Irish folk of the olden times were even more clairvoyant and spiritual-minded than the Irish folk of to-day. So by drawing upon these written records let us try to understand what sort of beings the Sidhe were and are.
Therefore it is that to-day Ireland contains two races,---a race visible which we call Celts, and a race invisible which we call Fairies. Between these two races there is constant intercourse even now; for Irish seers say that they can behold the majestic, beautiful Sidhe, and according to them the Sidhe are a race quite distinct from our own, just as living and possibly more powerful. These Sidhe (who are the 'gentry' of the Ben Bulbin country and have kindred elsewhere in Ireland, Scotland, and probably in most other countries as well, such as the invisible races of the Yosemite Valley) have been described more or less accurately by our peasant seer-witnesses from County Sligo and from North and East Ireland. But there are other and probably more reliable seers in Ireland, men of greater education and greater psychical experience, who know and describe the Sidhe races as they really are, and who even sketch their likenesses. And to such seer Celts as these, Death is a passport to the world of the Sidhe, a world where there is eternal youth and never-ending joy, as we shall learn when we study it as the Celtic Otherworld.