#FaerieFriday: Seelies and Unseelies

The term ‘faerie’ does not refer to one individual type of being, but rather encompasses a whole variety of beings. In Celtic mythology there are many ways to categorize faeries, for example into Trooping Faeries or Solitary Faeries. But one categorization that has intrigued me from the beginning was the Scottish notion of a Seelie and an Unseelie Court.

“[I]n Scottish legends the faeries are often divided into the Seelie Court and the Unseelie Court. The Seelie Court is comprised of the good, kind fairies, while the outright evil faeries tend to belong to the Unseelie Court (Briggs 1976: 222). These courts were not seen as very confining: the faeries of the Seelie Court could be violent when angered, while the […] members of the Unseelie Court could sometimes just have fun in non-lethal ways.”

Faerie Folklore in Medieval Tales – An Introduction by Mika Loponen

Beware: Seelies can be just as treacherous as Unseelies. The distinction, although implied (as seen in the picture below), is not light vs. dark, good vs. evil. All of the Fair Folk lack moral sense and are incapable of understanding human emotions; the Unseelies’ methods might just be a bit more savage. 

The first time I came across this distinction was actually in a fictional novel. In the Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare, faeries are divided into two courts. This idea always fascinated me, but I had more burning questions: Why were there two courts? Did they used to be one? What divided them? The beauty of story-telling is that we can make up our own answers. And so I went ahead and wrote The King’s Daughters, the first conflict between Seelies and Unseelies in my fictional world of Tír na Óg.


Previous #FaerieFriday posts:

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#FaerieFriday: Fairy, Faerie, or Fae?

My upcoming novel Seelie Princess will be filled with all kinds of magical creatures. I based a lot of the story and characters on Celtic mythology, but not all of my research made its way into the novel. Over the course of the next few months, I will share bits and pieces of Celtic lore I found during my research. Leave a comment below if you’re interested in learning more!


Have you seen a faerie lately?

The May Fairy by Cicely Mary Baker

Whether you think faeries are real or just a story you tell little children, the truth is that many European cultures have their own faerie belief. Some think of the faeries as small and cute forest creatures, others would say they are more humanoid. Faeries might be benevolent little helpers sometimes, but they can also be tricksters, like Puck in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The many names of the faeries

The faeries—also spelled ‘fairies’ or ‘fae’—go by many names. Some call them the Fair Folk. The Scottish refer to them as the Wee Folk, while the Welsh know them as Tylwyth Teg. One term that inspired me in particular is of Irish origin:

The (Aos) Sidhe – In Irish folk belief, the Tuatha de Danann, children of the goddess Dana, inhabited the island of Ireland early on. They were seen as a race of divine beings eternally young and unfading. With the arrival of the Sons of Mil, however, they retreated to live under the mounds (Irish: Sidhe; pronounced SHEE) and became thus known as the Sidhe or Aos Sidhe. They are the ever-present second race of Ireland, also called the Faeries or Fair Folk.  (Source: The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries by W. B. Yeats) 

Where did the faeries come from?

Same as with their appearance and etymology, the origin of the faeries varies depending on the culture. As explained above, the Irish think of the faeries as a second race living under the hills. Some believe them to be demons or demoted angels, while others think of them as demoted deities. But perhaps they are some form of elemental or spirit.

If you’re interested in learning more about faeries, here are some resources I used:

  • Fairy on Wikipedia (a good starting point, but not all of it is reliable)
  • Faerie Folklore in Medieval Tales (a wonderful introduction to the topic; available for free here)
  • The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries by W.B. Yeats (available for free here)
  • A Treasury of Irish Fairy and Folk Tales (available on Amazon)