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w h a t a r e s i d h e ?
First a disclaimer/thing to keep in mind: I am talking about Earth-natives here. I am acquainted with a number of "space elves" (that is, ones who came here from other worlds), but I'm not sure how they fit into this picture and whether one can really consider them related in the way I'm about to describe, beyond a resemblance of "feel" which leads them to use the same word for themselves.
Unfortunately, the whole elven-faery spectrum is a little muddled, especially since "elf", "fae/fairy/faery" and "sidhe" are all words from different languages for a kind of being which could possibly be all the same. Now, when I say "all the same", that doesn't mean "identical" - I mean "all the same" in the way in which humans are all the same. That is to say, there is still a wide spectrum of difference. Elves, fae and sidhe are related, IMO, but the words are not interchangeable (at least not anymore - language evolution and all that) and descirbe different "essences".
So what exactly distinguishes the "sidhe essence" from the "elven essence" from the "faery essence"? Again IMO, I think there is a spectrum or Venn-diagram thing going on here. My feeling is that sidhe is in between faery and elven, faery having the more wild, primal, chaotic feel, the relation to pure Glamour and the all-possibility of "Dreaming" (to use a Changeling term); elves tend to be refined, civilized, "crystalline" (this word describes their feel to me but makes a lot of people raise their eyebrows), even your "wild" tribes or types. Sidhe partake of both these essences - hence the idea of the warrior-fae who are masters of skills and built great cities and like that.
This leads into Tuatha de Danann, which are kind of their own thing, but again there is some kind of relation. If they do not call themselves "Tuatha" then the next most common word I see them use for themselves is "sidhe"; somewhat less common, "elf". This connection/identity with Tuatha is the main reason I hesitate to use the word "sidhe" for myself, because while I feel a link to Dana herself, the whole Tuatha thing has never yet held any resonance of possible identity for me. I usually just default to "faery" even though sometimes I want to say "sidhe". One of the things that the word "sidhe" carries for me is "shining". Faery doesn't necessarily have this - there are a lot of faery races that are not "shining ones", and elves sort of quietly glimmer. Sidhe are radiant. (I think this might be a point of connection/conflation with angelic types, actually.)
(From January 2004)
Re: Tuatha as fae... While I think it is reasonable to apply the adjective "faery" to (at least some) Tuatha de Danann, IMO that comes from the fact that their lands under the hills could be considered Faery lands... extensions into this world of the "mirror image" world that is Faerie. However, I would not call them "faeries".
Re: Dannan energy coming across as gold... I saw someone talking about this on Enchanted Realms, and also a number of people on FAE seem to feel the same way. A common perception. Like Lann, I also associate a kind of silvery feel with sidhe, but I associate it (or a similar one) with elves as well... something almost crystalline, whereas Tuatha has that golden feel, and Faerie is... multicoloured, or multicoloured iridescence on top of green... with maybe some gold in it as well.
A simple physical difference is that elves rarely possess wings, whereas faeries very frequently do. I would say that sidhe would be somewhere in the middle, and also that they are less likely to have a physical nature, but rather to be an energetic feature... an extension of their "shining", a tattoo of light written on the air, if you like.
(Also January 2004, a different post)
I like to picture a spectrum:
Elves - Sidhe - Faery
Where exactly the Tuatha de Danann (and indeed, angelics - for various reasons people often perceive connections between angels and elves, or angels and fae) fit on this, whether they can be considered a kind of sidhe or are really a separate category, is not something I'm considering here. I have no subjective experience of that, myself, and it's often led to confusion on my part, because most of the other sidhe-types I know have a strong connection to Tuatha-ness that I just don't feel. (Dan O'Dea describes it as "Danaan gold", in reference to how he perceives the particular energy of Tuatha-sidhe.)
In any case, I feel that the three broad types are related, but certainly not interchangeable. And of course, where you have things like this, you would have people that fit firmly into one, and others that fit into the "borderlands" between. It might even be better to describe this as a circle, so Faery wrapped back around to Elves. In any case, I agree that sidhe are much like fae, especially in that they possess/use glamour, and tend to hail from places in Faerie, but there are fae that are completely non-sidhe as well.
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