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The leannán sídhe ("Fairy-Lover"; Scottish Gaelic: leannan sìth, Manx: lhiannan shee; [lʲan̴̪-an ˈʃiː]) is a figure from Irish Folklore. She is depicted as a beautiful woman of the Aos Sí ("people of the barrows") who takes a human lover. Lovers of the leannán sídhe are said to live brief, though highly inspired, lives. The name comes from the Gaelic words for a sweetheart, lover, or concubine and the term for inhabitants of fairy mounds (fairy). While the leannán sídhe is most often depicted as a female fairy, there is at least one reference to a male leannán sídhe troubling a mortal woman.
A version of the myth was popularized during the Celtic Revival in the late 19th-century. The leannán sídhe is mentioned by Jane Wilde, writing as "Speranza", in her 1887 Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland. W. B. Yeats popularized his own 'newly-ancient' version of the leannán sídhe, emphasizing the spirit's almost vampiric tendencies. As he imagined it, the leannán sídhe is depicted as a beautiful muse who offers inspiration to an artist in exchange for their love and devotion; although the supernatural affair leads to madness and eventual death for the artist:
The Leanhaun Shee (fairy mistress) seeks the love of mortals. If they refuse, she must be their slave; if they consent, they are hers, and can only escape by finding another to take their place. The fairy lives on their life, and they waste away. Death is no escape from her. She is the Gaelic muse, for she gives inspiration to those she persecutes. The Gaelic poets die young, for she is restless, and will not let them remain long on earth—this malignant phantom.
In literature and pop culture
A number of traditional Irish tales feature characters that appear to draw from the leannán sídhe legend for inspiration. These include Katharine Mary Briggs's "The Fairy Follower" in Folktales of England, the story "Oisin in the Land of Youth" in Ancient Irish Tales, "The Dream of Angus" in Augusta, Lady Gregory's Cuchulain of Muirthemne.
In 2005 game Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening, one of the bosses called Nevan was based on Leanan sídhe. Leanan sidhe is also a recurring recruitable creature in the popular Megami Tensei series of games.
The old Irish song "My Lagan Love" uses her as a metaphor for consuming love: "And like a love-sick lennan-shee/She hath my heart in thrall,/Nor life I own nor liberty/For love is lord of all."
The Irish band Unkindness Of Ravens released the song "Leanan Sídhe" in 2015 alongside an accompanying video further exploring the ancient myth. The video was filmed in The Burren in County Clare and the Slieve Bloom Mountains in County Offaly, Ireland, as well as the Pollnagollum caves.
Modern fantasy novels often include characters based on Irish mythology. Examples include The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher, with a recurring character named Leanansidhe (or Lea for short) and The Iron Fey Series, by Julie Kagawa. Also the book Ink Exchange (April 2008), a part of the Wicked Lovely series, by Melissa Marr.
Star Trek Deep Space Nine's episode "The Muse" seems to take inspiration from the legend wherein Jake Sisko become influenced by a character who drains his life force in exchange for increasing his writing skills.
In Christopher Moore’s 2012 fantasy novel, Sacré Bleu, a muse who inhabits women’s bodies to inspire the French Impressionistic painters through the hallucinogenic power of the blue paint she creates, is given a backstory that includes time spent inspiring the Pict people of Northern Britannia to revolt against the Roman Empire’s settlements in their territory in 122 A.D. The name the muse is given for this embodiment is Leanan Sidhe — portrayed as a blue warrior woman who leads the blue-painted Picts into battle.
- Irish mythology in popular culture
- Baobhan sith
- Dames Blanches
- Weiße Frauen
- Witte Wieven
- Focloir Gaeilge-Bearla
- "Leanan Sidhe". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 31 May 2020.
- Focloir Gaeilge-Bearla
- "Transactions for the Year 1854". Transactions of the Ossianic Society. 2: 90–92. 1855. Retrieved 31 May 2020.
- Wilde, Lady Jane (1887). Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland. Boston: Ticknor and Co.
- Ó’Súileabháin, Brian. "The Truth about Leannán Sidhe". Irish Imbas. Retrieved 14 March 2019.
- Yeats, W.B (1888). Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry. London: The Walter Scott Publishing Co. Ltd. p. 81.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUHvLzhBaVE[bare URL]
- Miska, Brad (2018-08-07). "DarkCoast Finds Their 'Muse' in John Burr's Twisted Fairy Tale". Bloody Disgusting!. Retrieved 13 April 2019.