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Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Strange Lands

Strange Lands

Supernatural Creatures of the Celtic Otherworld

Faerie Trees

Certain trees or combinations of trees (such as three thorns growing entwined, particularly on a hill side, or the association of Oak, Ash and Thorn) may mark an entrance to the Otherworld. Sometimes they may appear rather unremarkable, or otherwise quite magnificent with their long gnarled limbs, huge distended boles sometimes splitting open to reveal dark canyons and a labyrinth of twisted writhing roots. These portals to the Hidden Kingdom, and also the trees that provide a home to a considerable brood of Tree Sprites or other sylvan Fays, are known variously as Faerie Trees, Monants, Bile, Sceach or Skiough. 

However some trees go beyond being doorways or dwelling places and display a sublime sentience of their own. Some of these trees bare their souls more visibly than others and some of them profoundly so. Faces may sometimes be seen to fade or even vanish seasonally, particularly in winter (the time of hibernation and natural defoliation for deciduous trees), only to reawaken when spring has sprung. 

The two main forms of commonly stationary faces to be seen upon the bark of trees are known as the Sleepers and the Old Heads. Though they may be manifestations of the tree’s own soul, there is suggestion that some trees may at times harbour the souls of dead humans - particularly those who breathed their last hanging from their branches, either through execution, accident or suicide.

Celtic Dryads

Also known as: Sidhe Draoi, Faerie Druids, Tree Nymphs.
Though the Dryads’ name has been linguistically connected to the Oak, like the Celtic priests known as Druids, they are not particular only to these trees. Indeed many Dryads are said to have a stronger association to Willow trees (Salix species). 

Willows have traditionally been associated to the moon and the Dryads may be observed or heard singing harmoniously on moonlit nights, for these nature spirits are said to be devotees of the lunar goddess Tana (also known as Diana or Selene). Dryads may be observed also during daylight, though often only fleetingly moving through the greenery. Unlike the Greek Hamadryads, the Dryads are not bonded to a single tree and though they may have an individual favourite, they are free to move about between them. 

Whilst the Greco-Roman Dryads have a male counterpart (known as a Drus), the Celtic Dryads are generally regarded as being female. Also unlike the various Nymphs (nature spirits most specifically recorded in Greek and Roman myth, but likely related and associated to some British / Irish nature and water spirits also), the Celtic Dryads are not particularly sociable towards humans, though they are infinitely more likely to try and avoid us rather than do us harm. However it has been suggested that they may have communed with Druids in the distant past.


The Lesidhe appoint themselves as woodland guardians, a position whose duties they seemingly regard as largely consisting of making life difficult for human ramblers and forestry workers. The local Lesidhe generally seem content to frighten and bewilder mankind by causing them to lose their way in the heart of the woods. 

This of course can be quite distressing, but we should perhaps be grateful as many of their East European relatives are said to include rape and battery amongst their activities. 

By name and by nature comparisons can be drawn between the Lesidhe and the Slavic arboreal god, Leshy. This red-cloaked, clog-footed, shape-shifting deity would also way-lead travellers amongst the leaves and boughs and, like the Lesidhe, was also thought to hibernate throughout winter.

Tree Sprites

Also known in Northwest England as Poldies; In South England as Pottons; In Ireland as Skeagh-Shee.

Some Fay breeds choose to live within the trees of our world rather than in the Fairy Hills, Sunken Isles or Otherworldly domains. Possibly these particular Faerie Trees exist both in the material and astral realms, or may even be bridges between both worlds. 

These sylvan Fays can be generically classified as ‘Tree Sprites’ and many may resemble Elves but there can be an array of differences between species. Some Tree Sprites are specific to particular species of trees, (such as the Oak-men and the Lunatishee) but others are seemingly less partial and may even be nomadic between trees. 

Though they may at times be defensively territorial against humans and nip them if they wander too close, they are willing to share their arboreal homes with other creatures such as birds, arthropods and some mammals as well as sometimes with other supernatural entities such as Dryads , Old Heads and Ghillie Due.


Also known as: Moon Faeries, Lunatisidhe, Blackthorn Sprites.
The Lunatishee are the guardians of Blackthorn trees (Prunus spinosa) and they rarely leave their host plant. 

They are mainly nocturnal and, as their name suggests, are moon-worshippers. Humans will harvest the Blackthorn berries (Sloes) to make preserves and will cut its wood to make the Irish-style walking sticks known as shillelaghs, and for this reason the Lunatishee hate mankind with a passion. Given the opportunity they will pinch a human’s skin between their long thorn-like fingers until the resulting bruise is as black and blue as the fruit of their tree.

The Sprites of the Hawthorn (Crataegus species - also known as May Tree, May Flower, White Thorn and Moon Flower) may also likely be lunar devotees, as it is sometimes claimed that the flowers of this tree will first blossom under moonlight and it has been considered very unlucky to take Hawthorn flowers into a home. In Ireland the Hawthorn Sprites are known as Sidheog (or alternatively as Sheogues, Sigh Oges, Sheoques or Shoges).


Also known as: Inifri Duir, Bodachan na Croibhe Moire.
The Oak-men are very protective of their host tree and, though they far prefer to live in the most ancient and imposing Oaks, they will begrudgingly settle in pollards and coppices should their mature tree be lopped or chopped. 

However should this occur the Oak-men would sometimes seek revenge, not necessarily upon the ‘guilty’ lumberjack or tree-surgeon but upon any passing human. A typical means of vengeance was to assume the form of bucolic human traders and, in apparently generous spirit, offer appetising looking cakes to hungry and weary passers-by. However these succulent treats would actually be poisonous fungi glamorised to look good and wholesome. 

Though their opinion and treatment of humankind is generally low, the Oak-men are reputedly very protective and nurturing towards the various other natural creatures that share their woodland habitat.

Apple-Tree Men

Some supernatural creatures become most protective of fruit trees, even when they are growing in human plantations. Their presence therefore could either be a bonus or a bother to the orchard owners. The Orchard Guardians, particularly the Apple Tree Men will chase away fruit-raiders but may also take umbrage with genuine harvesters. 

Though they will begrudgingly accept fruit-picking they may demand certain conditions. In the traditional Cider counties such as Somerset, apple-pickers could only harvest fruit at particular times of the day. Other customs such as ‘Wassailing’ and ‘Apple Howling’ involved unusual rites such as beating the tree with a stick wrapped in a cider-soaked rag and making lots of noise. 

Festivities involving the trees were habitually employed both at harvest time and often also at Xmas and New Year, in order to placate the spirits and hopefully guarantee a good fruit crop for the following year. It was also customary to leave a single apple on the tree for the Apple Tree Man at the end of the season likewise to ensure that the next yield would be bountiful. The Apple-Tree Men and other Orchard Guardians were often known by individual names according to their locality and children would often try their luck by taunting these figures and attempting to steal their fruit.


As well as being a favoured haunt of Dryads, Willow trees (Salix species) often display a distinctive character of their own. Whilst many of the inherent tree spirits such as the Sleepers display little or no animation, the Willows have a reputation for uprooting themselves at night and going wandering in their entirety. 

Should they observe a human taking a nocturnal stroll in front of them, then the Willow will likely follow muttering and grumbling to themselves all the while. Should the walker stop and turn, then the Willow will itself stop and when they carry on the Willow will also resume walking and whispering.

Elder Mothers

Also known as: Old Mothers, Elder Witches, Burtree Witches, Old Women of the Elder Tree, Old Gals.

The Elder tree (Sambucus nigra) divides human opinion, as some see it as a large and intrusive weed with a foul odour, whilst others prize it for the cordial, wine and preserves that can be made from its berries and flowers, the medicinal quality of its natural produce and the rudimentary whistles that can easily be made from its twigs to entertain children for a short while. 

However to the minds of many people the Elder meant much more. Whilst it is advisable to show respect to all trees, many lumber-men would verbally ask permission of the Elder before cutting its wood. Even then it would not be taken into a home as there was the risk that burning its wood on a house fire would invite evil spirits or death into a home, and that a baby laid in an Elder-wood cradle would at best be nipped by unseen fingers or at worst be damned to an early grave. 

It was thought that Witches would sometimes transform themselves into Elder trees in order to spy on or to escape capture from their enemies. Other Elders were reputed to harbour the soul of a dead Witch or their own feminine spirit. Not all of these Elder mothers were sinister; some were reputed to be caring and compassionate, and allowed their twigs to be carried as charms to ward off other malevolent entities. Liewise, an Elder tree left unmolested on someone’s premises would protect the abode from evil.


Also known as: Wild Men, Wode-wose, Wood Men, Woses, Wuda -Wasa, Wodwo, Wyllt, Woosers, Green Men, Bachlach.

Some Wode-Wose were violent imbeciles who would rape, kill, steal and brutalise without a second thought; others were shy, peaceful arboreal creatures and others still were mystic hermits and wise men who had retreated from the world of humans. Whatever their individual situation and story, the Woodwose could not escape human attention for ever - the wiser ones were often sought out by people wanting their problems solved for them, the wilder ones hunted down, baited and battled by knights and the like seeking a challenge and a point to prove. Whilst always associated with forests the word ‘wood’ or ‘wode’ in Anglo-Saxon meant ‘mad’.

Green Men

‘Green Man’ is a name that has commonly been used in modern times to refer to the varied but essentially similar vegetation icons that are evident in old art and traditional festivities. To many, his image represents the spirit of rain and vegetation, or an archaic agricultural and fertility deity, perhaps even an aspect of The Horned God.

This is perhaps most evident in the Green George spring rites of the Gypsies, however many of the Green Men costumes seen in other traditional May-day or Beltain processions are actually representations of Woodwose. The Jack in the Green was a figure common to the May-day processions of 18th Century southern and central England, most commonly represented as a tall heavily leafed form frequently accompanied by several chimney-sweeps. Though such celebrations rarely occur anymore, or have often been made more commercially viable for tourists, genuine traditional ceremonies do survive in some areas.

The carved images of the Green Man to be found in some Norman and Gothic style churches (and also conversely painted on the signs of some public drinking houses) were formerly known as Foliate Heads. These are either sculpted from wood or stone and appear as disembodied heads wearing leaf masks or surrounded by a garland of leaves (most frequently Oak, Ivy or Hawthorn) that has generally spewed forth from their mouth. Their expressions can vary considerably from being serene or morose to lecherous or sinister. It is possible that they were once used as tools for teaching morality.

Brown Men

Also known as: Moor Men, Brown Men o’ the Muirs.
The Brown Men are the guardians of the wildlife that inhabit heath, scrub and moor-land, however they are extremely shy and wary of human presence. The temperament of a confronted Brown Man is generally unpredictable (though they are considered sly and troublesome in Northern England). 

Should a Brown Man actually be encountered in close quarters it is advisable not to let them feel threatened. If the wiles or wrath of a Brown Man is incurred, then if possible it is recommended that the offending human should cross a river or brook, for it is said that this creature is extremely reluctant to pass over running water in pursuit. 

The Brown Men are more commonly thought to be a Fay species, rather than feral humans, and it is possible that they possess the ability to transform themselves into the form of hares or other moor-land creatures, in order to avoid being observed or captured. Whilst females have not been distinctly reported and Brown Men are usually sighted in isolation, it is not impossible that there may be more than one Brown Man per moor and they may even live in mated pairs or in small social groups, perhaps in dens below ground or under shrubs, Bracken or Ling.


Pillywiggin Troops include Vairies, Farisees, Hotties, Feerins, Greenies. The Pillywiggins are probably the Fay species most commonly encountered by children at the bottom of the garden. They display a strong relationship to flowers and small plants. Whilst certain Pillywiggin Troops may be linked only to a specific location, or species of plant, others are more general. 

Many people have developed a mawkish opinion of Flower Faeries. It is never a wise move to underestimate or trust any Fay species too deeply, however. Granted, the Pillywiggins are often very pretty and jovial but that does not necessarily equate with overtly sweet. Usually they only seem mildly curious of humans and the Pillywiggins that inhabit churchyards may be seen to mimic the ceremonies that they have observed. 

They are not human though and their morals and behaviour could be as unpredictable as those of any other Fay species. Pillywiggins are deeply protective of their floral environment and, as many of them often display insect attributes such as wings or even antennae, it is also possible that they would adopt other features such as swarming tendencies, chitin armour and painful bites or stings if they felt exceptionally threatened. It must also be remembered that amongst the plants they frequent are poisonous specimens such as Foxglove, Henbane, Bittersweet and Ragwort.


The Devas are thought to have originated in Persia (now known as Iran) and made their way here via Greece. They are a peaceful race, renowned for their compassion and potent healing abilities. These powers are most often applied to rare or delicate plants. The word ‘Deva’ means ‘Shining One’ and around dusk their aura may be seen extended around a particular plant that are nurturing. 

There are several different forms of Deva recognised in the Persian heartland with the species becoming established here being known more specifically as Golden Devas and Green Devas. Respectively the Golden Devas are concerned with the transmission of solar energy, whilst the Green Devas nurture growing plants. They are often curious about humanity but may be very shy. 

It is possible that White Devas (also known as Sylphs), who are spirits of the air, and Violet Devas, who are connected with the spiritual aspect of nature, are also present in these isles; however, due to their ethereal quality they may not have been widely recognised as such.

By Andrew L. Paciorek

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