Back in 1998, before I moved to Scotland, I was a baby Witch living in Bath. I was reading all the gentle introductory books on Witchcraft I could find, and starting to put their exercises into practice. One of those books, I can’t remember which, suggested beginning a relationship with the Sidhe – the beings most people refer to as ‘faeries’.
It recommended showing respect to elder trees – the dwellings of the Queen of Faery – and leaving silver coins in any hidden green space I could find. So I curtsied to the elder tree on my way to the train every morning, kissing her leaves, and left five pence pieces under the bushes in the park near my workplace.
The Sidhe (pronounced ‘shee’) of Ireland and Scotland have their equivalents all over the world: in Wales, they’re the Tylwyth Teg; in Scandinavia, they’re the Alfar; in Japan, they’re the Kami; among some Native Americans, they’re the Nunnehi; in Hawai’i, they’re the Menehune; in the Phillipines, they’re the Enkanto – or close enough.
All of these titles are names for non-corporeal beings who, depending on the local tradition, might range from nature sprites to shape-shifting beings to Gods to the spirits of the dead.
Three things all traditions agree on: they can grant wishes, they’re tricksy, and if you piss them off, they’ll destroy you.
For all my curtsies and silver coins, I didn’t really believe in faeries until I moved to live in the country, and then it wasn’t so much me believing in them, as them rushing up to me and grabbing my attention. Maybe all that work I put in as a city-dweller paid off.
Meeting the Sidhe
The first time I met them was when a stranger came round the house and refused a cup of tea. (You know how we British are about tea.) I was sitting at the kitchen table, chatting with a nice man from Business Gateway about options for running my own business, when one by one, in rapid succession, all of the tea boxes dropped off their shelf on the wall.
That could have been a mouse, I thought.
The second time I met the Sidhe was when my partner and I walked to the nearby Tibetan centre. It was a bright, sunny day in May, and we’d been in our new house just a couple of weeks. We didn’t have a car, and we still had an overflowing sense of adventure and excitement in exploring our new environment. The Tibetan centre was four miles by track and road, but as the crow flies, over squelchy hilltop and low burn, it was just a mile and a half.
The final obstacle on our route was the River Esk, which runs past the back of the centre’s grounds. As we approached our goal, the soles of my wellies threatening to slip on the rocks of the river bed, and I ‘heard’ tiny, squeaky voices discussing how funny it would be to push me in.
That could have been my imagination, I thought.
The final time was the clincher. I was about to leave the house for work, but I couldn’t find my keys. I turned the house over looking for them, but in the end I had to use my spare car key to get to the bus stop and then rely on the building’s caretaker to get me in and out of my office once I got to work.
Even though I was skeptical, I behaved as if the Sidhe were real, and the cause of all of these happenings, and started leaving food and drink out for them on the kitchen table at night. Lo and behold, my keys appeared a few weeks later, when we were stripping out the wood panelling in the bathroom to have the walls replastered. They were – can you believe it? – between the panelling and the brick wall.
The magic was real
I was pretty sure this time it couldn’t have been a mouse – the keys and the fob together were far too heavy for a tiny field mouse to carry – and I knew for certain that it wasn’t my imagination. So I kept up the connection, leaving offerings on the kitchen table, then moving them to the window sill, and eventually outside to the trees in the garden.
Over the years, these offerings have become more than just a way of paying off troublesome spirits. They’ve become a very clumsy, very human way of building a relationship with this land and its more-than-human life. They’ve opened a doorway for me to begin conversations: with trees whose names I don’t know, with wild herbs I want to harvest, with crows and rooks who act as messengers, taking my offerings into their bellies and my blessings out to the land.
I not only leave food in the branches of trees, but walk up the track and sing to the burn, to the rocks, to the 5000-years-dead human spirits who are my neighbours. And I am no longer afraid of the spirits, of the dark, of the weather – although I always show them the deepest respect. I have learned to speak to them; sometimes they show me that they’ve heard.
And to this day, whenever something of mine goes missing and can’t be found, I know it’s time to feed the Sidhe.