The daoine sídhe (Scots Gaelic, daoine sith) are said to be the descendants of the Tuatha Dé Danann (“People of the Goddess Danu”), a race of deities that figures prominently in Irish mythology.
These gods are, in fact, common to various Celtic cultures. Danu herself was known as Dôn in Wales, for example. Both names go back to a Proto-Celtic form Danona. Likewise, the earliest Celts worshipped deities named Lugus (Lugh, Lleu), Noudans (Nuada, Nudd), Ogmios (Ogma, Eufydd), etc. They arrived in Ireland in the distant, mythic past. Some legends say they arrived in flying ships. At any rate, they brought with them several powerful magical artifacts: the Lia Fail or “Stone of Destiny” that helped select successive kings of Ireland, the spear of Lugh, the sword of Nuada, and the cauldron of the Dagda. After defeating the indigenous Fomorians, they became the undisputed rulers of Ireland.
It is said that only iron weapons could injure them. The Tuatha Dé Danann were eventually defeated by the Iron-Age Milesians—the ancestors of the contemporary Irish—and driven to the Otherworld, which homeland they access via the ancient burial mounds that dot the Irish countryside. They continue to live, it is said, as invisible beings. In Irish thinking, the Otherworld is closer to this world at dawn and dusk. This is thus a special time at which sightings of these fae are more likely.
The descendants of the Tuatha Dé Danann are known by a bewildering diversity of names, including:
- Daoine sídhe or aes sídhe, both meaning “people of the mounds.” The simple term sídhe is also commonly seen.
- “Still-moving people” or “people of peace,” alternate interpretations of the term daoine sídhe.
- Daoine uaisle, meaning “lordly ones” or “gentry.”
- Cloan ny moyrn (“children of pride/ambition”) or adhene (“themselves”), names favored on the Isle of Man.
- The Fair Folk, the Good Folk, or the Good Neighbors.
All of these terms are euphemisms to avoid using the straightforward Gaelic term siabhra (Irish) or siabhrach (Scottish) “faery.” Use of this term is thought to be far too forward for mortals to use with impunity lest the sídhe take notice of the perceived slight.
By all accounts, the daoine sídhe are powerful magicians. In early Irish manuscripts, they are described as “gods and not gods.” They are generally described as stunningly beautiful, although they can also be hideous monsters. It is likely a duine sídhe can look like whatever he or she wants to. In addition, these fae are often accomplished shapeshifters.