HeyO! This was a bit of something I’ve wanted to do for awhile. Had it in my mind to do an Irish/Celtic/Gaelic/Welsh/Scottishwhathaveyou guide for awhile. Finally got around to it, at the very tail end of summer. So here goes.
Aos Sí: Irish term meaning “people of the mound”, they’re comparatively your faeries and elves of Irish mythology. Some believe they are the living survivors of the Tuatha Dé Danann. They’re fiercely territorial of their little mound homes and can either be really, really pretty or really, really ugly. They’re often referred to not by name, but as “Fair Folk” or “Good Neighbors”. Never, ever piss them off.
Cat Sidhe: Cat Sidhe are faerie cats, often black with white spots on their chests. They haunted Scotland, but a few Irish tales tell of witches who could turn into these cats a total of nine times (nine lives?). The Cat Sidhe were large as dogs and were believed to be able to steal souls by passing over a dead body before burial. Irusan was a cat sidhe the size of an ox, and once took a satirical poet for a wild ride before Saint Ciaran killed it with a hot poker.
Badb: Part of the trio of war goddesses called Morrígna with sisters Macha and Morrígan, Badb, meaning “crow”, was responsible for cleaning bodies up after battle. Her appearance meant imminent bloodshed, death of an important person, and/or mass confusion in soldiers that she would use to turn victories in her favor. She and her sisters fought the Battles of Mag Tuired, driving away the Fir Bolg army and the Formorians. In short: total badass.
Merrow: The Irish mermaid. They were said to be very benevolent, charming, modest and affectionate, capable of attachment and companionship with humans. It is believed that they wore caps or capes that would allow them to live underwater, and taking a cap/cape of a merrow would render them unable to return to the sea. Merrow, unlike regular mermaids, were also capable of “shedding” their skin to become more beautiful beings. They also like to sing.
Púca: Also called a phooka, these are the chaotic neutral creatures of the Irish mythos world. They were known to rot fruit and also offer great advice. They are primarily shapeshifters, taking a variety of forms both scary as heck and really really pretty. The forms they took are always said to be dark in color. Púcas are partial to equine forms and have known to entice riders onto its back for a wild but friendly romp, unlike the Kelpie, which just eats its riders after drowning them.
Faoladh: My all-time favorite Irish creature. Faoladh are Irish werewolves. Unlike their english neighbors, Faoladh weren’t seen as cursed and could change into wolves at will. Faoladh of Ossory (Kilkenny) were known to operate in male/female pairs and would spend several years in wolf form before returning to human life together, replaced in work by a younger couple. They are the guardians and protectors of children, wounded men, and lost people. They weren’t above killing sheep or cattle while in wolf form for a meal, and the evidence remained quite plainly on them in human form. Later on, the story of an Irish King being cursed by God made the Faoladh a little less reputable.
Dullahan: Dullahan are headless riders, often carrying their decapitated cranium beneath one arm. They are said to have wild eyes and a grin that goes from ear to ear, and they use the spine of a human skeleton as a whip (What the WHAT). Their carriages were made of dismembered body parts and general darkness. Where they stop riding is where a person is doomed to die, and when they say the human’s name, that person dies instantly.
Gancanagh: An Irish male faerie known as the “Love-Talker”. He’s a dirty little devil related to the Leprechaun that likes seducing human women. Apparently the sex was great, but ultimately the woman would fall into some sort of ruin, whether it be financial or scandal or generally having their lives turn out awful. He was always carrying a dudeen—Irish pipe—and was a pretty chill guy personality-wise. You just don’t ever want to meet him—it’s really bad luck.
It is a route taken by the faeries, commonly in a straight line and between sites of traditionally significance, such as faerie forts or raths (a class of circular earthwork dating from the Iron Age), mountains and hills, thorn bushes, springs, lakes, rock outcrops, and Stone Age monuments.
In some parts of Ireland, Brittany and Germany, there were faerie paths that while being invisible, had been seen as geographical locations by the country people, and that building practices were adapted to ensure they were not obstructed.
The Corpse Roads of Europe are believed to be faerie paths. In Germany and the Netherlands, these tend to be straight invisible lines and are known by a variety of names including Geisterweg (“ghost-way” or “ghost-road”) and Helweg (“hell-way” or “hell-road”) in German and Doodweg (“death-way” or “death-road”) in Dutch. A similarly straight road did however run straight over various burial mounds at Rösaring, Lassa in southern Sweden.
In Ireland, people who had illnesses or other misfortune, were said to live in houses that were “in the way” or in a “contrary place”, obstructing a faerie path. An example of this faerie path straightness is provided by an account concerning a croft (now a cattle shed) at Knockeencreen, Brosna, County Kerry:
In an interview in the 1980s, the last human occupant told of the troubles his grandfather had experienced there, with his cattle periodically and inexplicably dying. The front door is exactly opposite the back door. The grandfather was informed by a passing gypsy that the dwelling stands on a fairy path running between two hills. The gypsy advised the grandfather to keep the doors slightly ajar at night to allow the fairies free passage. The advice was heeded and the problem ceased. It so happens that the building is indeed on a straight line drawn between two local hilltops, and is, moreover, at one end of a long, straight track.
It was believed that a house built on a faerie path would suffer from midnight noises or supernatural manifestations. Bad luck in the form of sick farm animals or personal illness could be the result and one remedy was to build small fires in several places along the faerie path, using fire from the blessed fire of Saint John’s Eve that was lit every year at sunset on 23 June.
Irish faerie paths are said to also exist under water, reminiscent of causeways in marshes at sacred sites and those to crannogs and other islands. These paths, only used by the faerie folk, ran from one island to another and were paved with coral, making them and their travellers visible to fishermen in their boats above.
Before construction of houses, builders used the technique of mapping out the floor plan in the earth and placing a pile of stones at each corner and leaving it overnight, if the stones were undisturbed it was safe to build, otherwise the work would not continue. There is another theme that states if one’s house is on a faerie path, one must leave the doors and windows open at night, front and back, to allow fairies to pass through. Builders were also advised against using white quartz in their stonework, as it is said to be a faerie stone.
A building placed on a faerie path would be demolished by the faerie folk, at least twice, often remaining standing however on the third attempt.
Walking Alongside The Paths
Although it is usually said that they should be avoided, some are reputed to be beneficial to humans - such as the “trods” of West England. These are a straight-line faerie path in the grass of a field with a different shade of green to the rest. People with rheumatism sought relief by walking along these tracks, though animals avoid them. Great danger was still very much associated with using these paths at times when a supernatural procession might be using them.
The Tylwyth teg of Wales have paths on which it is death for a mortal to walk.
The Breton Ankou, who is king of the dead, and his subjects have their own particular paths along which they process.