Friday, June 8, 2012

Folklore Friday: Know your Legends: The Leanan Sidhe

A series detailing mythological creatures. First: A Fairy  renowned for granting wishes of artists.

"The best thing about my faerie godmother is that the creepy just keeps on coming."
- Harry Dresden, Ghost Story.

Leanansidhe (Irish: leannán sí, Scotch Gaelic: leannan sith, Manx: lhiannan shee) is a member of the Aes Sidhe renowned for her startling beauty, red hair, and association with artists.  The origin of the name is somewhat in question: The term can mean 'Barrow-Lover' or 'Fairy Lover".  

In traditional Celtic tales the Leanan sidhe was renowned as the beautiful fey Muse. Like her Greek counterparts she supplied inspiration to artists, assisting those who took up her love in creations of great complexity and beauty.  The sidhe were not always the tiny folk of our legends, and in fact the creation of mostly human-sized Fey is one of the mythological concepts that DND has gotten right and should stick with. A beautiful, inspiring lover who grants you artistic talent?  An anti-Yoko?  What's the problem?

Apparently William Butler Yeats.  Yeats (pictured right with the traditional look of a man who doesn't believe in fun, care-free inspirational fey boot-knocking) wanted to focus on the negative aspects of the Fey folk.  Yeats, the first Fantasy Fanboy, wrote extensively on fantasy topics including a period of focus on Edmund Spenser and his native Irish folklore.

Alright, he won a Nobel Prize.  And wrote some amazingly inspirational poetry that make him more productive than 99% of current fanboys.  Of course, he probably would have loved to see that his specific views of the fairy help to inform the consciousness of the World's Best Roleplaying Game.

You see, Yeats focused on a bit about the Leanan sidhe being somewhat of a parasite.  It seems that most of her lovers die young, the spark of inspiration burning out of them.  Of course a life of trying to keep up with a hectic schedule, constant ministrations by a frisky immortal redhead, and a swelling well of infinite artistry may be the reason for the deaths.

My gods... Billy Joel was right..

In short the Leanan sidhe is a 'malignant phantom' who makes sure 'Gaelic poets die young, for she is restless, and will not let them remain long on earth'.  Of course Yeats survived to the youthful age of 74, so we may have to take his view with a small grain of salt.

Depictions of the Leanan sidhe:

Leanansidhe, Dresden Files

Closeness to the Legends: Not so much.  Lea has never really been pictured for any length of time as her namesake, though the concept of her inspirational powers has been brought up several times.  She seems to be treated mostly as a Handmaiden of Mab and Dresden's Fairy Godmother.

The depiction of Lea is very close to the Leanansidhe legend, with specific focuses on the Dresden mythos.  She is depicted as possessing otherworldly beauty, scarlet hair, and fine features as should be seen in the elder Sidhe.

Grade: C.  Lea is an interesting interpretation of the myth, and serves as a counterpart for multiple sidhe in the Dresdenverse while maintain some of the window-dressing of her roots.

Onaya, Deep Space Nine

Closeness to Legends:  A bit.  Onaya seems to be inspired by the mythos, has an otherworldly look (though 'beauty' in her true form may be a bit of a stretch) and drains the artist of power through psionic manipulation.  Onaya's 'true form' appears to be an invisible ball of psionic energy that, when detected, 'looks' like a fairy light.

Grade: B.  While she may not be the pretty form we would expect from our awesome depiction above, this version of the Leanan sidhe seems to cover the gamut of traits in one tight package.  The depiction of her true form as a fey light also gives a few points, providing for a twist in the 'gods and monsters are aliens' mythos.

In total I hope you have learned a bit about the history of a new creature and I look forward to hearing from you.  What are some other examples of the Leanansidhe that you have seen in popular culture?

Good Gaming.