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Fairies Mythology - Fairy Myth and Lore Fact Shot



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fairy (also fatafayfaefair folk; from faeryfaerie, "realm of the fays") is a type of mythical being or legendary creature in European folklore (and particularly CelticSlavicGermanEnglish, and French folklore), a form of spirit, often described as metaphysicalsupernatural, or preternatural.


Myths and stories about fairies do not have a single origin, but are rather a collection of folk beliefs from disparate sources. Various folk theories about the origins of fairies include casting them as either demoted angels or demons in a Christian tradition, as minor deities in Pagan belief systems, as spirits of the dead, as prehistoric precursors to humans, or as elementals.

The label of fairy has at times applied only to specific magical creatures with human appearance, small stature, magical powers, and a penchant for trickery. At other times it has been used to describe any magical creature, such as goblins and gnomesFairy has at times been used as an adjective, with a meaning equivalent to "enchanted" or "magical".

A recurring motif of legends about fairies is the need to ward off fairies using protective charms. Common examples of such charms include church bells, wearing clothing inside out, four-leaf clover, and food. Fairies were also sometimes thought to haunt specific locations, and to lead travelers astray using will-o'-the-wisps. Before the advent of modern medicine, fairies were often blamed for sickness, particularly tuberculosis and birth deformities.

In addition to their folkloric origins, fairies were a common feature of Renaissance literature and Romantic art, and were especially popular in the United Kingdom during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The Celtic Revival also saw fairies established as a canonical part of Celtic cultural heritage.


Early modern fairies does not derive from a single origin; the term is a conflation of disparate elements from folk belief sources, influenced by literature and speculation. In folklore of Ireland, the mythic aes sídhe, or 'little folk', have come to a modern meaning somewhat inclusive of fairies. The Scandinavian elves also served as an influence. Folklorists and mythologists have variously depicted fairies as: the unworthy dead, the children of Eve, a kind of demon, a species independent of humans, an older race of humans, and fallen angels.[13] The folkloristic or mythological elements combine CelticGermanic and Greco-Roman elements. Folklorists have suggested that 'fairies' arose from various earlier beliefs, which lost currency with the advent of Christianity.[14] These disparate explanations are not necessarily incompatible, as 'fairies' may be traced to multiple sources.

Christian mythology[]

King James, in his dissertation Daemonologie, stated the term "faries" referred to illusory spirits (demonic entities) that prophesied to, consorted with, and transported the individuals they served; in medieval times, a witch or sorcerer who had a pact with a familiar spirit might receive these services.[15]

Demoted angels[]

A Christian tenet held that fairies were a class of "demoted" angels.[16] One story described a group of angels revolting, and God ordering the gates of heaven shut; those still in heaven remained angels, those in hell became demons, and those caught in between became fairies.[17] Others wrote that some angels, not being godly enough, yet not evil enough for hell, were thrown out of heaven.[18] This concept may explain the tradition of paying a "teind" or tithe to hell; as fallen angels, although not quite devils, they could be viewed as subjects of Satan.[19]

In England's Theosophist circles of the 19th century, a belief in the "angelic" nature of fairies was reported.[20] Entities referred to as Devas were said to guide many processes of nature, such as evolution of organisms, growth of plants, etc., many of which resided inside the Sun (Solar Angels). The more Earthbound Devas included nature spiritselementals, and fairies,[21] which were described as appearing in the form of colored flames, roughly the size of a human.[22]

Arthur Conan Doyle, in his The Coming of the FairiesThe Theosophic View of Fairies, reported that eminent theosophist E. L. Gardner had likened fairies to butterflies, whose function was to provide an essential link between the energy of the sun and the plants of Earth, describing them as having no clean-cut shape ... small, hazy, and somewhat luminous clouds of colour with a brighter sparkish nucleus. "That growth of a plant which we regard as the customary and inevitable result of associating the three factors of sun, seed, and soil would never take place if the fairy builders were absent."[23]

For a similar concept in Persian mythology, see Peri.

Demoted pagan deities[]

At one time it was thought that fairies were originally worshiped as minor deities, such as nymphs and tree spirits,[24] and with the burgeoning predominance of the Christian Church, reverence for these deities carried on, but in a dwindling state of perceived power. Many deprecated deities of older folklore and myth were repurposed as fairies in Victorian fiction (See the works of W. B. Yeats for examples).

Fairies as demons[]

A recorded Christian belief of the 17th century cast all fairies as demons.[25] This perspective grew more popular with the rise of Puritanism among the Reformed Church of England (See: Anglicanism).[26] The hobgoblin, once a friendly household spirit, became classed as a wicked goblin.[27] Dealing with fairies was considered a form of witchcraft, and punished as such.[28] In William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's DreamOberon, king of the faeries, states that neither he nor his court fear the church bells, which the renowned author and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis cast as a politic disassociation from faeries.[29] In an era of intellectual and religious upheaval, some Victorian reappraisals of mythology cast deities in general as metaphors for natural events,[30] which was later refuted by other authors (See: The Triumph of the Moon, by Ronald Hutton). This contentious environment of thought contributed to the modern meaning of 'fairies'.

Spirits of the dead[]

One belief held that fairies were spirits of the dead.[31] This derived from many factors common in various folklore and myths: same or similar tales of both ghosts and fairies; the Irish sídhe, origin of their term for fairies, were ancient burial mounds; deemed dangerous to eat food in Fairyland and Hades; the dead and fairies depicted as living underground.[32] Diane Purkiss observed an equating of fairies with the untimely dead who left "unfinished lives".[33] One tale recounted a man caught by the fairies, who found that whenever he looked steadily at a fairy, it appeared as a dead neighbor of his.[34] This theory was among the more common traditions related, although many informants also expressed doubts.[35]

Hidden people[]

There is a theory that fairy folklore evolved from folk memories of a prehistoric race: newcomers superseded a body of earlier human or humanoid peoples, and the memories of this defeated race developed into modern conceptions of fairies. Proponents find support in the tradition of cold iron as a charm against fairies, viewed as a cultural memory of invaders with iron weapons displacing peoples who had just stone, bone, wood, etc., at their disposal, and were easily defeated. 19th-century archaeologists uncovered underground rooms in the Orkney islands that resembled the Elfland described in Childe Rowland,[36] which lent additional support. In folklore, flint arrowheads from the Stone Age were attributed to the fairies as "elfshot",[37] while their green clothing and underground homes spoke to a need for camouflage and covert shelter from hostile humans, their magic a necessary skill for combating those with superior weaponry. In a Victorian tenet of evolution, mythic cannibalism among ogres was attributed to memories of more savage races, practising alongside "superior" races of more refined sensibilities.[38]


A theory that fairies, et al., were intelligent species, distinct from humans and angels.[39] An alchemist, Paracelsus, classed gnomes and sylphs as elementals, meaning magical entities who personify a particular force of nature, and exert powers over these forces.[40] Folklore accounts have described fairies as "spirits of the air".[41]


​​​​Much folklore of fairies involves methods of protecting oneself from their malice, by means such as cold iron, charms (see amulettalisman) of rowan trees or various herbs, or simply shunning locations "known" to be theirs, ergo avoiding offending any fairies.[42] Less harmful pranks ascribed to fairies include: tangling the hair of sleepers into fairy-locks (aka elf-locks), stealing small items, and leading a traveler astray. More dangerous behaviors were also attributed to fairies; any form of sudden death might have stemmed from a fairy kidnapping, the evident corpse a magical replica of wood.[43] Consumption (tuberculosis) was sometimes blamed on fairies who forced young men and women to dance at revels every night, causing them to waste away from lack of rest. Rowan trees were considered sacred to fairies,[45] and a charm tree to protect one's home.[46]


In Scottish folklore, fairies are divided into the Seelie Court (more beneficently inclined, but still dangerous), and the Unseelie Court (more malicious). While fairies of the Seelie Court enjoyed playing generally harmless pranks on humans, those of the Unseelie Court often brought harm to humans for entertainment.[37]

Trooping fairies refers to those who appear in groups and might form settlements, as opposed to solitary fairies, who do not live or associate with others of their kind. In this context, the term fairy is usually held in a wider sense, including various similar beings, such as dwarves and elves of Germanic folklore.[47]