Hi! Welcome to Myth Perceptions where I explore and then share aspects of myth and legend that I have encountered in my reading and writing. Currently, I’m exploring the stories, myths and legends pertaining to fairies.
One of my most recent “discoveries” regarding fairies was the existence of two Courts – Seelie & Unseelie. Mind you, I understood that there are “good” fairies and “bad” fairies, but I hadn’t heard of these two Courts until I was captured by The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. (If you are a fan of Urban Fantasy and you haven’t read them yet, where have you been hiding? Do it. Do it now!) Jim’s incorporation of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts was compelling and led me to explore other books involving the Fae. While I’m in full name-dropping mode, other suggestions would include Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series, and Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series.
But I’m not here to review these series, I’m here to talk about the Courts of the Fae! I should note that these two Courts are based on Scottish folklore. My research uncovered that seelie is derived from words meaning “happy,” “lucky,” or “blessed” and unseelie is the opposite “unhappy,” “unlucky,” or “unholy.” I found the interpretations of “blessed” and “unholy” harken to one train of thought that fairies are derived from the concept of angels. Additionally, the two Courts are often broken into sub-Courts assigned to seasons – Seelie Courts – Spring/Summer and Unseelie Courts – Fall/Winter. Those designations can also be seen to represent a light and dark association.
However, don’t forget my very first warning – the Fae are creatures apart and their idea of what is light or dark, good or evil, helpful or harmful are not the same as that of mere humans. In all cases, the deciding factor for their actions is always what is beneficial to the Fae. Human feelings, foibles, and weaknesses do not factor into the decisions or actions of the Fae unless it is to further their own cause. We are lesser creatures.
SEELIE COURT – The Seelie Court is more tolerant of, and less harmful to, humans, in general. They usually to keep their treatment with humans to the level of pranks or mischievous behavior. This is not to say that they do not indulge in acts that can harm humans – abduction, luring travelers to injury or death, changelings – but they are less likely to do so with ill intent. Additionally, most folklore seems to group the more attractive and human-appearing Fae into the Seelie Court. There are exceptions, but they are generally very “fair” folk.
UNSEELIE COURT – The Unseelie Court is much more likely to wreak havoc and harm upon humans. Consider their most famous entity, the Slaugh (similar to the Wild Hunt) who rides the skies harming and/or stealing humans. Another infamous member of the Unseelie Court are the Redcaps – these creatures wear red caps soaked with the blood of humans they have killed.
In most literature, there is a continual battle to maintain or upset the balance between the Courts. The Seelie or Light Court mostly fights to protect what they love, but is less often the aggressor, whereas the Unseelie Court fights to take what they feel they deserve or desire above and beyond what they currently hold. Perhaps this is again a projection of our own judgement of the two courts. Who can be certain which party is the aggrieved in a war between races we cannot truly understand.
The best part of this is that there is plenty of fodder for fairy tales, light and dark. Stories to brighten our days or darken our nights. Tales to warm our heart or chill our blood.
I have barely scratched the surface of the Courts of the Fae, but I hope I’ve at least wet your whistle to explore on your own. Check out the growing ‘verse of fairy stories and share your faves in the comments below. In the meantime, I hope you’ll come back next month as I continue my wanderings through the realms of the Fae.
Denise Golinowski is a reader and writer of fantasy and romance. Her enovella, Collector’s Item, is available as both print and ebook The Wild Rose Press.
Her first enovella, The Festival of the Flowers: The Courtesan and the Scholar is also available through the Wild Rose Press. You can visit her blog at Golinowski’s Gambol.