In Irish and Scottish folklore, the Sluagh Sidhe, known also as the Fairy Host, are
considered to be a manifestation of the Wild Hunt. The Sluagh
consist of the unrestful spirits of the dead and are considered by
many to be troublesome and destructive. The word Sluagh refers to a
"host," or perhaps a more applicable translation would be "army."
Coming from the West, the
Sluagh fly in groups like flocks of birds and attempt to enter a
house where someone is dying to take the soul
away with them. West facing windows are sometimes kept closed to keep
them out. In the testimonies of many rural folk a distinction is often
made between the sidhe who are seen walking on the ground after sunset,
and the Sluagh Sidhe, or Fairy Host, who travel or fly through the air
at night and are known to kidnap mortals with them on their
journeys. According to W. B. Yeats, the Tuatha de Danann were also referred to as
the Sluagh Sidhe (Fairy Host) or Marcra Sidhe (Fairy Cavalcade).
The Sluagh are considered to be
the most fierce and terrifying of all the fairy peoples. In a report by Evans Wentz,
Marian MacLean of Barra distinguished between the fairies and the Host.
Generally, the fairies are to be seen after or about sunset, and walk
on the ground as we do, whereas the Hosts travel in the air above
places inhabited by people. The Hosts used to travel at night and more particularly around the time of midnight.
the Cave of Cruachan in Connaught stands the Hell Gate of Ireland. At
Samhain every year the gate opens and the Wild Hunt rides forth
accompanied by a flock of copper red birds who ruin crops and kill
animals using their poisonous breath. The Cu Sidhe, or the so-called hell hounds,
are said to accompany them. These were the faeries who stole the
children to replace them with changelings and such. To travel the
nights alone at this time was considered to be extremely dangerous, and
one had to be careful to protect against such monstrosities
which might try to attack them.
There are several
accounts of the Host collected by Evans Wentz from various named
few of them regard the Host as fallen angels and not the dead. But most
of their accounts corresponded closely to that given by Alexander
Carmichael. The Sluagh are the spirits of mortals who have died. The
people have many stories on this subject and according to one
informant, "The spirits fly about in great clouds, up and down the face
of the world like the starlings, and come back to the scenes of their
earthly transgressions. No soul of them is without the clouds of earth,
dimming the brightness of the works of earth. In bad nights, the Sluagh
shelter themselves behind little russet docken stems and little yellow
ragwort stalks. They fight battles in the air as men do on the earth." The
Sluagh Sidhe can also sometimes be heard and seen on clear frosty nights, advancing
and retreating, retreating and advancing, against one another. After a
battle, as was told in Barra, their crimson blood may be seen staining
rocks and stones. 'Fuil nan sluagh,' the blood of the hosts, is the
beautiful red 'crotal'
of the rocks melted by the frost. These spirits are said to kill
animals such as cattle, cats, dogs, and sheep with their venomous darts
which are more commonly known as fairy darts. It is said that the
Sluagh "Commanded men to follow them, and men obeyed,
having no alternative. It was these men of earth who slew and maimed at
the bidding of their spirit-masters, who in return ill-treated them in
a most pitiless manner. They would be rolling and dragging and
trouncing them in mud and mire and pools. "
(References: Briggs, K. M. "A Dictionary of
Fairies." (London: A. Lane, 1976) * Carmichael, A. "Carmina Gadelica."
(Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd Edinburgh, 1928) *
MacDonald, L. "Celtic Folklore: The People of the Mounds." (Dalriada
Magazine, 1993) *
W. B. Yeats. "Fairy Folk and Fairy Tales of the Irish Peasantry."
(London: Walter Scott, 1888) * Wentz, Evans, W. Y. "The Fairy Faith in
Celtic Countries." (Buckinghamshire: Colin Smythe, 1988)