#2 A penchant for music, dancing and revelry…

A sneak peek at some of the denizens of fairyland you’ll meet in The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies…

Many of the fairies’ favorite times of year are connected with music, dancing, and revelry. In tales from around the world, fairies have a love of music, and are often to be found dancing in moonlit fields and meadows, forming light circles of grass known as fairy rings. It is said that anyone entering a fairy circle at midnight can see the fairies and may join in their dance―but exiting may not be so easy.

To mark the start of the bank holiday weekend, today’s fairies are the Sheoques of Ireland, whose love of revelry is infamous. One woman in Ireland was said to have returned after a seven-year sojourn with the Sheoques bereft of her toes―she had danced them all off.

 #2 Sheoques, the

Small land-dwelling fairies in the folklore of Ireland.

Illustration © Andy Paciorek

According to W. B. Yeats in Irish Fairy Tales (1892), the name derives from the Irish sidheog, “a little fairy.” Yeats describes the sheoques as the spirits that haunt the sacred thorn bushes and the ancient raths, or ringforts, that are found scattered throughout the Irish countryside. The land fairies are said to have enticed many a mortal down into their dim world. Yeats writes:

Many more have listened to their fairy music, till all human cares and joys drifted from their hearts and they became great peasant seers or ‘Fairy Doctors,’ or great peasant musicians or poets like Carolan, who gathered his tunes while sleeping on a fairy rath; or else they died in a year and a day, to live ever after among the fairies.

Though generally benevolent, sheoques were in the habit of stealing human children, or sometimes adult men or women, and leaving a withered fairy changeling, “a thousand or maybe two thousand years old,” in their place.

In one account from the 1800s, a man wrote to one of the Irish papers, telling of a case in his own village and how the parish priest made the fairies deliver the stolen child up again. In another account, it was said that a woman from the village of Coloney, Sligo, was taken in her youth. Yeats writes:

When she came home at the end of seven years she had no toes, for she had danced them off. Now and then one hears of some real injury being done a person by the land fairies, but then it is nearly always deserved. They are said to have killed two people in the last six months in the County Down district where I am now staying. But then these persons had torn up thorn bushes belonging to the Sheoques.

Check back to meet a fairy a day in the run up to the release of The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies on 28 August, 2014.