Table of Contents
One of many stunningly beautiful but also treacherous fairy women in Irish mythology, the Leanan Sidhe is the bane of Irish artists, writers, and musicians. Preying on their melancholy and depressive nature as well as their loneliness and appreciation for beauty, the Leanan Sidhe are said to have brought the ends of many of Ireland’s artists.
Who are the Leanan Sidhe?
Leanan Sidhe are a type of demons or evil fairies in Irish mythology. Their name translates as Fairy Lover and can also be spelled out as Leannán Sídhe or Leannan Sìth. They are closely related to the more famous banshees or bean sidhe, i.e. fairy woman.
As the Leanan Sidhe’s name implies, they are gorgeous fairies that aim to entice men into a wicked type of “relationship” with them. What’s more, the Leanan Sidhe have a very specific type of men they tend to go for.
Why Do the Lean Sidhe Choose Artists?
While a creature as gorgeous as the Leanan Sidhe could arguably make any man fall in love with her, these evil fairies tend to go only for artists, writers, musicians, and other creative types.
There are many possible reasons for this. For one, the stereotypical artist is very romantic and melancholic. Typically a man, at that time in Irish history at least, the artist is also usually in dire need of inspiration or a muse. And this is a role that the Leanan Sidhe is adept at taking.
The Leanan Sidhe’s entire plan relies on seducing the struggling artist with her beauty and giving him the inspiration he needs to pursue his craft. In doing so, however, the Leanan Sidhe also draws energy from the artistand slowly but surely exhaust him and turn him into a frail and weakened man.
How the Artists Meet Their End
In some myths, a Leanan Sidhe’s victim is said to live as the enchantress’s slave forever – unable to break free of her spell and forced to continue creating art and fueling the Leanan Sidhe’s existence with his own life force.
According to other myths, the Leanan Sidhe would employ a different strategy. She would stay with the artist for a while, enough to make him dependent on her inspiration. Then, she would abruptly leave him, casting him into a horrible depression that he would not able to get out of. This is another big reason why Leanan Sidhe prefer to prey on artists – their innate depressive tendencies.
Soon after, the artist would either die of desperation or take his own life. The Leanan Sidhe would then swoop in and take the dead man’s body and drag it to her lair. She would feast on his blood and use it to fuel her own immortality.
How To Stop A Leanan Sidhe
As powerful as the Leanan Sidhe are, they are not unstoppable and Irish myths do tell of a couple of ways a man can save himself from their trickery.
The first chance to escape the Leanan Sidhe’s grasp is at first sight – if a Leanan Sidhe offers her “love” to someone and he is able to refuse her, then not only would her plan be foiled but the Leanan Sidhe would be forced to become the artist’s slave instead.
On rarer occasions, an artist trapped in a Leanan Sidhe’s web could escape her grasp if he is to fall in love with another woman.
Are There Male Leanan Sidhe?
There is one known reference of a male Leanan Sidhe tormenting a woman artist. This is mentioned in Transactions of the Ossianic Society from 1854. This is viewed as an exception to the rule, however, and the Leanan Sidhe are still viewed as female fairies. The fairies’ connection to the also female bean sidhe or banshee further cements their image as female-only spirits.
Symbols and Symbolism of the Leanan Sidhe
The Leanan Sidhe myth is quite emblematic in Irish mythology. With many of the country’s poets, artists, and writers dying young after leading short and troubled lives, the Leanan Sidhe myth is often used as an explanation for that phenomenon.
The myth is based on many stereotypical characteristics of young artists – their proclivity to falling into depressive moods, their inability to control their creative urges once they do find inspiration, and their irrationally romantic nature, to name a few.
This isn’t to say that artists were deterred from finding lovers or forming relationships. But it was common for the woman in their lives to be blamed for corrupting the artist and plunging them into depression and desperation.
Importance of Leanan Sidhe in Modern Culture
Like many other old Celtic myths, the Leanan Sidhe had a Renaissance in Ireland during and after the 19th century. Many of Ireland’s famous authors wrote about the Leanan Sidhe, including Jane Wilde in her 1887 Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland, or W.B. Yeats who ascribed an even more vampiric nature to these fairies in his “newly ancient” version of the myth.
In his notorious book, Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland, Yeats says about the Leanan Sidhe that:
Most of the Gaelic poets, down to quite recent times, have had a Leanhaun Shee, for she gives inspiration to her slaves and is indeed the Gaelic muse — this malignant fairy. Her lovers, the Gaelic poets, died young. She grew restless, and carried them away to other worlds, for death does not destroy her power.
Yeats is often blamed for changing the traditional Celtic myths too much and overly romanticising them but, from today’s point of view, his writings are just other versions of those myths, as valid as the rest.
These fairy lovers can also be found in contemporary pop culture.
For example, we can find Leanan Sidhe in Lady Gregory’s Cuchulain of Muirthemne, Katharine Mary Briggs’s The Fairy Follower, the story Oisin in the Land of Youth in Ancient Irish Tales, and others. Brian O’Sullivan’s 2007 Leannán Sidhe – The Irish Muse collection of short stories is another good example for those looking for more traditional Irish stories with these Fairy lovers.
There’s also the 2015 song Leanan Sidhe by the Irish band Unkindness of Ravens, the 2005 video game Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening, the Persona and Devil Summoner video game franchises, and the popular Megami Tensei Japanese video game series. In the manga world, there’s the Mahoutsukai no Yome (The Ancient Magus’ Bride) by Kore Yamazaki.
As for modern fantasy literature, the 2008 Ink Exchange from Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series, The Iron Fey Series by Julie Kagawa, and the famous The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher and his Leanansidhe character, called Lea for short, are some examples. In the movie world, there’s the 2017 Muse horror film by John Burr which featured a beautiful and deadly female spirit who became a painter’s love and muse.
The Lean Sidhe continue to inspire and captivate modern imagination, and like other creatures of Celtic mythology, remain their influence can be found in modern culture.