“Faeries show the truth to me.
For only truth I wish to see.”
Scotland: a land steeped in legends, superstitions and folklore.
Imagine a time before scientific reasoning could explain the sudden shifts in Scotland’s fickle weather, the strange land formations like the Old Man of Storr, and the numerous hardships that gripped the inhabitants of a harsh climate.
You’ll start to understand how Scotland’s many myths emerged. Coupled with the Scots’ famous knack for storytelling, the legends have been carried down through generations and live on for visitors to experience today.
You see, we have all heard of Nessie and her elusive presence far beneath the surface of Loch Ness, hiding in waters so dark that no light can reach. Every now and then she will pop up, tease us with a glimpse of her magnificent neck or the curves of her sleek body. She feeds our imagination enough to keep the legend alive and then disappears, swimming back to her underwater Kingdom, whence she came.
But she is not alone, and she’s certainly not the only fantastic beast to enrich the already magnificent legends of a country that is rife with them.
And there is only one other being that has gripped human imagination for centuries, shared by cultures all over the world.
Do you remember how, as a child, you believed in faeries and other invisible fantastical folk? And how, as you got older, you were talked out of their reality?
Well, that is not the case for a very many people!
If you’ve done some reading or if you’ve been following the TV series Outlander, then you probably know that Highlanders had many superstitions surrounding faeries. Particularly on the Isle of Skye, the belief in the existence of faeries, or “the little people,” goes back to prehistoric times—although nowadays it’s little more than a colorful part of the local legends. Originally thought to be evil, faeries were believed to live deep within the heather of Fairy Glen.
The Irish called Fairy Land Tir-Na-Nog, or “Land of the Young.” According to legend, Tir-Na-Nog was a place in the west across the sea that always remained in the season of spring. People swore—and to this day, some still do—that faeries were anything but legend, and the fabled Faery Folk were treated with respect because they lived by different rules, had magical powers, and held the key to valuable ancient knowledge. In the past, it was thought that certain faeries had given certain humans important information about healing, music, and the other arts and sciences.
Allegedly, there are records of powerful human doctors and musicians who were taught their special knowledge by faeries; for example, the tune “Londonderry Air” was supposedly given to an Irish harpist by the faeries, as was the Scottish MacCrimmons’ superb bagpipe ability.
The elusive brownie of the Celts, the hearth-loving domovoi of eastern Europe, the peris of Persia, and the tiny menehunes of Hawaii are examples of faeries who were not only real, but also friendly. As opposed to them, Irish leprechauns, pixies and the djinn of Arabia were tricksters around whom it was wise to be cautious.
The Highlands are unquestionably the wildest part of Britain and there are more cultural differences between Highland and Lowland Scotland than between Lowland Scotland and Northern England. The faeries bred here matched the landscape and the desolation: they were the most dangerous of all the Fey and often not just moody but downright evil.
In old Scotland, there was no doubt that there were only two groups of faeries: the Guide Faeries and the Wicked Witches. In the former category was the Seelie Court (the good or blessed court), a host of faeries who were benefactors to humans, giving bread, seeds, and comfort to the needy. These faeries might give secret help in threshing, weaving, and household chores, and were generally kind—but they were strict in their demands for appropriate reparation. The Unseelie Court, by contrast, were fearsome creatures, inflicting various harms and ills on man and beast alike.
Let us take a look at a few kinds of faeries that hide among the wild landscapes of Scotland!
Small faeries that resemble tiny, young men. They wear pointed red hats and can shapeshift; Buachailleen can be found in Ireland and Scotland.
Solitary faeries with black hair who live in trees and wear clothing made of leaves and moss. A benevolent fairy who is said to haunt a birch grove at the end of Loch Druing near Gairloch. The ghillie dhu are about 7″ tall, have light green skin and wild black hair, and are thin beings with long arms and fingers. They wear clothing made from sewn together leaves and knitted grass and mosses.
The ghillie dhu were once very shy, docile creatures that lived alone in birch trees protecting the woods around them from destruction by man or nature. They lived upon berries and nuts and created warm round nests from plant fiber, however, as their habitat in the Scottish forest dwindled, the ghillie dhu not only became more accustomed to man – though remaining terribly shy and silent – but also began sending emigrants to other parts of the world.
Like other pixies, Heather Pixies have clear or golden auras and delicate translucent wings. These faeries are attracted to the moors and the heather that covers them. They are not averse to human contact but do not seek us out. They have a prankster-ish nature about them. They are active all year. They live in fields of heather or on the moors of the Scottish Lowlands. If you wish to approach them do so slowly and let them know that you want to befriend them! 😉
Shape-shifting sea-faeries usually in the form of bright-eyed seals. They are said to come on land in human form where they dance, especially on full moon nights.
Seelie: The Blessed
These trooping faeries are benevolent towards humans, but will readily avenge any injury or insult.
Slaugh: The Host
The name of the Unseelie Court or the evil faeries in the folklore of Scotland. The name means the Host, which is a euphemism to avoid invoking them with the mention of their name and deter them from inflicting harm. They are believed to be the Fallen Angels that roam the midnight skies of the earth searching for lost souls. The Slaugh are also believed to be responsible for causing sickness and death among domestic animals and to lead humans astray. They are the band of the unsanctified dead who fly above the earth, stealing mortals away and taking enormous pleasure in harming humans. It is said that they have no means of reproduction, so instead they enslave mortals that they think will never be missed and then carry them along to become a part of their band.
Female water spirits who drag mortals down into the depths. They dress in green and have withered faces.
These folk tales run in our blood. People have been continuously passing on stories for about five thousand years, and each new culture adds its ingredients to a fantastically rich brew. I always thought that these stories that survived in our world with the help of oral storytelling hold an essence of ancient wisdom. Don’t you?
As far back as human memory can go, these stories were always there. Long before we started building our concrete houses, and driving our cars to work, we would gather around lit fires and share stories, with the starlit sky as our roof and the grass as our floor. We may interpret the world differently in modern times, but we still connect in the language of story.
So long live the faeries!
After all, they have been here much longer than humans! 😉
“By the stream in the fern-covered glen,
The strong Faery Folk live by the oak,
Away from the haunts of men.
They are tall and robust and fearless.
Their long locks all shades of the trees,
From buttercup bright to the blackness of night.
Their bright eyes like changeable leaves.”
-D. J. Conway
Written by Maddie MacKenna