Sunday, November 9, 2008

Elf, Fairy, or Sidhe? Which Should It Be? Spoiler Alert!

    I enjoyed watching Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, but unfortunately for Hellboy, the three kids who were with me and I were rooting for the bad guy Nuadda, who squarely defeated Hellboy in single combat but was treacherously destroyed by his twin sister. 
   The naming of the Elf Prince Nuadda made me smile since, anyone who is familiar with Celtic mythology would recognize the name as the leader of the Tuatha de Danaan, when they arrived at the home promised to them by their goddess Danu, Ireland. They called their new home Innis Fail or the 'Island of Destiny' in English.  Nuadda, in the film, was without the silver hand but he was carrying a sword.  And what a swordsman he was!!
      In keeping with the Irish Book of Invasions, the lebor gabala erin, the Tuatha de Danaan fought a war with humans, the sons of Miles.  The aftermath of the war was an agreement to leave the earth above ground to humans while the Tuatha de Danaan took the underworld, particularly the barrows, which is when their name changed to Sidhe, pronounced Shee, the people of the barrows. 
     So far the facts fit the movie, except for the Golden Army.  There was no Golden Army.  There were the Fianna, the Red Branch of warriors with Diarmid, who was every bit the athlete like Nuadda was in Hellboy but the creators of the film chose to call Nuadda an elf rather than a Sidhe.  Is it really the same thing since the English commonly call the folk of the 'Otherworld' the fairy people now?
    In a sense it is and this is where the Medieval connection lies.  It is in the evolution of the English language.  The Norman Conquest of 1066 did not just take the land, it took over the language.  Fairy is a word derived from Old French.  When the Anglo-Saxons marched into England in the fifth century, they pushed the native Celts into Cornwall, Wales, and Scotland where they lived apart and so Gaelic had very little impact on the language.  'Elf' would have been the Anglo-Saxon word and so it might still be if not for that French completely took over the language, excepting a few hundred common nouns like bread, brother, wood, etc.  Until Tolkien brought it back with The Lord of the Rings. 

Beatles Song of the Week

Ubi me in temporibus turbulentis invenio,
Mater Maria ad me venit,
Verba sapientarum dicit, sit.

Et in hora caeca mea
Ante meum directe stat,
Verba sapientarum dicit, sit

Sit, sit
Susurrate verba sapientarum,

Et ubi deiecti,
In terra vivens convenerunt,
Explicatio erit, sit.
Nam etsi separati sint,
Etiam potestas videbunt,
Responsio erit, sit.

Et ubi nox nubis est,
Est etiam lumen quod in meum lucet.
Lucete in crasinum, sit.

E somno excito et musicam audio,
Mater Maria ad me venit,
Verba sapientarum dicit, sit.


Anonymous said...

This is a great piece!

Just like to add that in the Sidhe we get banshee, in Ireland called the beanh sidhe. And the legendary figures of the Tautha de Danann are with us still. For example, the hero Lugh(pronounced "Luck") became the model for the leprechaun. There are several possible derivations for "lephrechaun", one of which may be luch-chromain, "little stooping Lugh."

The old traditions never really went away with the coming of Christianity. We simply honor them in different forms.


Anonymous said...

Not being brought up in Anglo-Saxon culture I've never knew there might be any difference between an elf, a fairy or any other magical creature with long blond hair and great sword skills (I didn't know the term "Sidhe" at all). Your question made me think about it and now I wonder what was the ultimate SOURCE of Celtic culture. People of the barrows were, according to the common knowledge, a superior race. Did they exist for real? Why barrows were better than the ground under the sun? I am fully aware that these questions are unanswerable but still, it is interesting to speculate about it.


Anonymous said...

Good points, Bridget.

There are a lot of theories on the source of Celtic culture. Some think that the term "Celtic" is generic to begin with. The closest genetic relatives of the British Celts are found in the Basque region of France and Spain. Where they came from is anyone's guess. Linguistically, the Celts may share roots with the Dravidians and other Indian/Hindu tribes.

Legends of a superior race are found the world over. IMO, they probably once existed for real. I agree that we'll probably never know for sure who they were and where they came from, but it sure is fun to speculate.


The Red Witch said...

Some of the Celts immigrated to the Continent when the Saxons came, those are the people of Brittany. Other Celts from northern Spain moved to Ireland when the Ostrogoths moved in hence to genetic closeness but they were all allied groups, similar in language, culture, religion, appearance as were the mainland Gauls.
I think the current differences between elves, ie pointy ears, and fairies, little and winged, are recent distinctions. When you go way back, the main difference is simply the language of origin. They refer to the same people.
Some groups developed faster than others and no doubt excited some awe from those groups to whom development came more slowly.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article, as always!
I read a blog the other day that likened the commonly-viewed descriptions of aliens as little grey men, to modern day fairies (or elves)- both are thought to abduct people, both are associated with a kind of 'magic' (though in the case of ET, this magic is supposed to be advanced technology). Culturally, knowledge of aliens is widespread (most people in the Western world could draw a picture of what an alien is thought to look like), though real proof is ever-elusive, just as it is with the little folk.

For an entertaining view of all things fairy, have you read Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl series?

Anonymous said...

Artemis Fowl series are one of my favourites books - it is indeed entertaining and very witty approach, not necessarily only for children. I especially loved the explanation of the word "leprechaun" and the presentation of author's version of Stonehenge's
"origins" ! If anybody wants a different (and more adult) view, read T.Prattchett's Lords and Ladies, which treats of elves (or fairies) and their nasty habits.

Anonymous said...

Oh right, and the signature - Bridget.

Anonymous said...

LOL, yeah, thats the first thing i thought of too, nuada of the silver hand!! although is his name pronounced nu-ah-da, or more like the actual irish nuala (nu-la), so nu-da??

one of the few films were i was rooting for the bad guy!

apparently there was a "race of giants" celts? Milesians? scythians??
who were found/maybe originated in around mongolia... i think, some very tall red and blonded headed mummies were found in
a province of china, (takla makan)

"they were well over two metres as they are now, in spite of the natural shrinkage expected during the past thousands of years"...=D

(look at the scythians part, although the whole page is quite interesting... )

so maybe there is something with all this sidhe business.



Anonymous said...

forgot to add, that didnt nuada airgetlám get his harm healed properly again, and thats why he is also known as twice kinged?

lol, i had read both artemis fowl and terry pratchett, great books!!

The Red Witch said...

I had heard about the race of red-haired giants. It is intriguing. And yes Nuadda had a silver hand. According to Wikipedia, in the film Nuadda's name was Silverlance so maybe that was a nod to his nickname Silverhand although his weapon was the sword and Lugh held the spear.
It was funny to note that they also named his father, the King of the Elves, Balor. Like the one-eyed Formorian who killed Nuadda and was killed by Lugh. If there ever was am inappropriate name.
I haven't read Artemis Fowl or Terry Pratchett but if you like Celtic stories I highly recommend anything by Peter Berresford Ellis who has updated many of the stories and made them far more readable than Lady Gregory's version.