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Fairies lend their good name to some of the greatest of tales, yet when many people search for the original meaning behind fairy tales the role that belief in fairies played in society is often forgotten. This is a guide to understanding what people believed fairies were so that you can better understand the fairy tales they inhabit.

Understanding Fairy Era's

There are three primary periods of human thought with regard to

understanding fairies within stories. These are;

Pre-Christian, Muslim, Confucianism, Buddhism, etc. 

During this time period I would define fairies as magical spirits

which exist in more vulnerable state then deities and take an

 interest in human affairs. In many ways during this time

fairy like beings can be more important to people then

the deities they might believe in. Observers of the Mari-El

 for example were surprised that they tended to focus

 their religious activities on pleasing the keremet (nature

spirit/ ancestor spirit/pieces of a deceased deity’s spirit).

Post-Christian, Muslim, Confucianism, Buddhism, etc. 

The fairies can be similar in many ways but they morph

emotionally, for while they held a dualistic role in society

before this people tend to focus on their negative aspects

in this post period. Further they no longer think of them as

 a desirable afterlife. For example people once believed that

 girls who drowned became nymphs and were comforted

 by the thought of them being able to live playfully and

 happily in beautiful places of nature forever. Yet in the

post-Christian era girls were afraid of being

forced to live as a nymph until judgment day.


After people stop believing in fairies they begin to use them

primarily as humorous, whimsical or moral elements. I tend

to focus less on this aspect of fairies in my research, and

 the longer description of fairies on this page ignores it entirely.

It’s important to understand that humans are complex

beings who can hold many beliefs at once. It wouldn’t be

unexpected for someone to use fairies as a whimsical element

yet at the same time be afraid of fairies on a dark night as

they walked home for example. Further various people in a

society can hold different beliefs about fairies. Many people

 in the Celtic lands still believed in fairies in a number of

ways even as the whimsical plays such as

 Peter Pan were being written.


The word fairy can be tied originally to a general concept of "fatedness." 
(Williams, 1991). To the ancient belief that there are many millions of supernatureal beings which control human fate. Fairies were once seen as a series of spirits and souls of many types which can alter the course of human lives for better or for worse.

Because they control human fate from secret it was believed that firies existed in a freer state then humans, able to to change shape, turn invisible, appear and disappear at will (Jacod Grimm). Becasue of their magical knowledge and capabilities fairies can be said to live in a hidden world along side the human world - living under stoves, at thresholds, within trees, rocks, mountains, caves, lakes, in invisible castles, underground worlds or realms in the sky.

Read a Synopsis on the Types of Fairies

Read Article Relation Between Humans and Fairies.

We see however that fairies are not necessarily superior to humans in all ways, along with believing that fairies were of a freer nature then humans Jacob Grimm asserted that many fairies lived in awe of humans, as humans existed in a realm somewhere between fairies and giants. Indeed many tales tell of humans capturing and tormenting fairies just as they tell of fairies capturing and tormenting humans.
Despite this however one could also claim that fairies are those beings which humans stand in awe of but which have not yet achieved divinity. I would argue that fairies are defined by both a knowledge of nature such that they can manipulate the world, altering what humans would call fate as well as the ability to live within a parallel realm to that occupied by humans. Further their knowledge allows many fairies to be immortal such that many fairies are older then the gods, Zeus for example was raised by a nymph and Odin saught out fairies to obtain knowledge.

Categories of Fairies

Nature spirits
The word for temple comes from an ancient Germanic word for wood because at one time the open glades of the forest acted as the temples for the Germanic, Slavic, Latin and Celtic peoples of Europe. 

Read Article Tree Fairies

Nature was both loved and feared by the ancient Europeans. The Romans would make sweeping motions in order to drive natural spirits from their homes yet would pray to trees for success. Celts threw items in wells or wedged them into trees in order to ask the fairies within for help but approached each carefully as the trees and wells would seek to kill them if they were not respectful.  It has been proposed that Baba Yaga of Russia was once a wind spirit as was Mira of the Baltic nations. The Celtic fishermen of Britteny would throw knifes into the fog in hopes of driving it away and people all through Europe would give offerings to the frost to keep it from killing their crops. 

Read Article Forces of Nature

Perhaps the most common and important fairies were the water fairies.

Read Article Water Fairies

Read Article Fairies of the Land

Read ArticleAnimals Spirits 

Read ArticleDeities of the past

Many of the fairies which haunt Europe are likely deities of the past who became lesser beings after another people or religion took over the region.  Charles Squire maintains that many of the fairy beings of Ireland are the divinities of the pre-Celtic peoples who inhabited that kingdom who were lessened when the Celts invaded. Specifically he states that: “The leprechaun, who makes shoes for the fairies and knows where hidden treasures are, the Gan Ceanach, or "love-talker" who fills the ears of idle girls with pleasant fancies when to merely mortal ideas they should be busy with their work; the pooka, who leads travellers astray, or taking the shape of an ass or mule, beguiles them to mount upon his back to their discomfiture; the Dulachan, who rides without a head, and other friendly or malicious spirits. Whence come they? A possible answer suggests itself. Preceding the Aryans and surviving the Aryan conquest all over Europe was a large, non-Aryan population which must have had its own gods who would retain their worship, be revered by successive generations, and remain rooted to the soil.” (Maccullock, 1911) I
Still many more other fairies such as Black Annis and Jenny Green Teeth were gods of the Celtic people who were demoted after the Celts became Christian.

Humans who become fairies
In many myths humans are decended from deities and or fairies, in some ancient Greek Myths for example humans are decended from the nymphs of the ash trees while they were created from ash trees in Germanic mythology. No mater the mythological orgin of humans all humans share a close relationship with fairies in European Mythology. So close that fairies often kidnap humans in order to have children with them. 
Further humans are often able to become fairies, the Tuth De Dannon of Ireland the Pixies of Cornwall were both said to have once been human peoples forced into hiding. In Germanic legend their are humans who become elf kings and in Greek folktales girls have been taken away by fairies so that they would become fairies.
Further fairies can become human, the Green Children of --- tells the tale of a pair of a fairy girl who eventually became human after eating human food over the course of a few months. 
What ultimatly seperates humans from fairies is knowledge which fairies have and humans don't. Knowledge which allows the fairies to manipulate nature, enter the hidden realms around humans, create illusions, change shape and turn invisible. This knowledge which is shared by fairies with their children and some few mortals is kept from most humans according to one Germanic dwarf because the fairies and deities don't trust humans. Zeus forbade giving humans fire for similar reasons and many European other myths assert that deities forbade giving humans too much power.

The Dead
The faces of dead loved ones were said to be visible among the trooping fairies and there are many Celtic tales of someone rescuing a dead loved ones soul from the fairy world. In a Russian version of the Cinderella story the protagonists mother grew into a tree which provided her with the gifts she needed to meet the prince thus having the girls dead mother take the place of the fairy god mother. All through Europe and the Eurasian steppes the souls of humans were said to inhabit trees. 
It was common to believe that ancestors who had died would continue to live near the family and help them with their problems. Domovoi the Russian household fairy was said to be an ancestor of the family who would help with chores, protect them from danger and wail when something bad was about to happen. Banshees too were an ancestor spirit which would cry when someone in their family was about to die. However the banshee was much more then a morning spirit, they would give their family members the gift of poetry, help them to develop strategies and offer advice. 

Their own Class of Beings
In many cases fairies were simply other beings, the dwarves, zwerge and elves had no relationship with humans and were not part of any natural phenomenon rather they were a separate species from humans. The Huldra or Vitra of Scandinavia are hollow women with no backs that live in an underground world of cities all their own who come to the surface to graze their cattle much as humans would. These separate beings do share many traits in common with humans and so we'll steal from, kidnap or imitate each others societies. 

This is an ongoing Series and we will continually post new content

Christian ideas of fairies

In post-Christian Europe it was believed that many of the Pagan dead as well as the souls of unbabtizied babies would become fairies until judgment day.
Demoted angels
A third belief held that they were a class of "demoted" angels. One popular story held that when the angels revolted, God ordered the gates shut; those still in heaven remained angels, those in hell became devils, and those caught in between became fairies. Others held that they had been thrown out of heaven, not being good enough, but they were not evil enough for hell.This may explain the tradition that they had to pay a "teind" or tithe to Hell. As fallen angels, though not quite devils, they could be seen as subject of the Devil.

Woodland Fairies

Forest Fairies


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