Fairies are a magical group of tiny beings with special powers that are often referred to as “elementals.” More often than not, fairies are depicted as female. They appear throughout written history, primarily in children’s stories and are often dismissed as pure fantasy. Sometimes the fairy category extends to and encompasses pixies, elves, sprites, brownies, pucks, imps and even leprechauns may also include gnomes and goblins. In some folklore, they were considered to be the spirits of the dead, or fallen angels or demons. They have also been labeled the “wee folk” and “silent people,” but no matter what they are called, they are considered to be extremely ethereal and magical.
Fairies exist in the culture of various nations, notably in Celtic folklore. Especially in Celtic fairy tales, they are described as a race of diminutive people who were forced into hiding by invading marauders. They are referenced as “elementals” because they typically are said to live outside, especially in the woods or in gardens. Some are even believed to exist primarily underwater.
In more modern day fairy tales, fairies are shown with humanoid features and faces, many times with pointed ears, and almost always with wings, as flight is one of their magical powers. Tinkerbelle (sometimes written as two words – Tinker Bell) in the J.M. Barrie story of Peter Pan is very likely the most famous fairy of all. Prior to their being categorized as teeny tiny creatures, however, fairies were sometimes drawn and described as taller than human beings, with an almost angelic appearance, while other depictions of them were as short, wizened trolls.
Fairies were often thought to be creatures who created a lot of mischief and malice, and therefore were to be avoided at all costs. Sometimes they were even described as demons. Their folkloric origins stem from the Celtic as well as French and German.
The Brothers Grimm wrote many folk stories and translated a variety of older texts that sometimes featured fairies as central characters. In addition to flight, fairies were sometimes said to be able to disappear and appear magically at will, to transform people, creatures or objects into a completely different form. Some fairies are believed to be visible, while others remain in the invisible realm. They are often shown living in the forest or among lush fields or gardens of flowers, drinking their nectar for sustenance.
In some mythology, fairies are considered immortal, as beings who never age and never die. Leprechauns, in particular, are usually associated with having the ability to grant wishes – primarily to help someone become wealthy beyond their wildest dreams – hence the “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow” legend. However, the wishes granted by fairies often have an interesting twist which involves some type of lesson in morality. Fairies are usually quite playful, much like children, and tend to set up quests for human inter-actors that resemble an intricate game, puzzle or riddle to be solved before any type of treasure or reward is earned.
Sometimes fairies are described as purely mischievous, doing things such as misdirecting travelers, stealing items from them, and so forth. Other fairy tales show them as more feared and even gruesome creatures – some cultures believed that seeing a fairy riding a pig, cow or duck would lead to a mysterious ailment or paralysis.
Almost every culture that includes fairies in its folklore describes them as having an almost symbiotic relationship with animals and plants. Fairies are believed to be able to communicate with these, and to enlist their help for a variety of purposes.
Another famous fairy power is the ability to cloak or disguise things cleverly. Hence, trusting that “fairy gold” would indeed remain gold often proved to be folly. Once someone who stole or earned fairy gold, to their dismay, in the end it often turned out to be enchanted leaves, cakes or other worthless items.
Some fairy mythology makes reference to fairies’ kidnapping of humans – often as babies, leaving changelings in their place, or spiriting away young men and women. Some characters remained kidnapped to a fairy kingdom forever, while others were able to escape or be rescued by the hero/heroine of the story.
LITERARY REFERENCES TO FAIRIES
The Grimm Brothers and J.M. Barrie have already been mentioned as writers who wove tales around fairies, but other authors who employed them include Shakespeare (the playful, mischievous Puck, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for one), and an argument could be made that L. Frank Baum’s Munchkins in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz tales were a specific race of fairies.
That author’s character Princess Ozma, who appeared in all of his tales of the land of Oz save the most famous first one, was the rightful ruler of Oz and in his book The Magic of Oz she is revealed as being part of the original group of fairies who enchanted the land to begin with.
In the King Arthur legend, Morgan le Fay (Arthur’s half-sister) has gone through a variety of iterations, and is perhaps most often depicted as a witch or sorceress. But in some of the early Arthurian tales, her origin is at least hinted at as being one of the fairy people. Her name actually means “Morgan the Fairy.”
The Fairy Godmother in Cinderella is certainly a beloved and famous member of the fairy community. Her abilities to transform pumpkins into carriage, mice into footmen and Cinderella’s rags into an amazing ball gown are her primary literary legacy.
However, early references to her include a malevolent, vengeful tendency that could be expressed in rather merciless violence to anyone who displeased her. So perhaps the Shrek movies depiction of this fairy aren’t so far off the mark!
A common thread throughout much of the literature that centers around fairies is this form of protection – to carry a piece of dry bread with you before you went into “fairy territory.”
Newfoundland fairy tales sometimes suggest carrying bread in your pocket for protection, while other cultures’ tales suggest offering bread, sometimes served with butter or cream, as a peace offering to the fairy kingdom. Bread has long been considered the staff of life, and so took on this additional importance in many fairy tales.
Fairies seem to have a penchant for granting wishes to people who are pure of heart, with innocent outlooks and intents. So having those innate qualities could get you far when dealing with the wee folk. Their mischief and leaning toward creating confusion and sometimes chaos amidst the human race is usually slanted toward people who are not so nice at their authentic core.
So if you’re basically a good person in most fairy tales, odds are you would not be harmed in any way. Perhaps misguided for the sake of a bit of fun, here and there, but not seriously harmed, and things usually worked out in your best interests in the end.
Yes, fairies are a beloved, well-known group of characters who may have different personalities, powers and intentions. Therefore, they are not that far afield from their human counterparts – in other words, depending upon the story and author, like people, fairies can be categorized to include “the good, the bad and the ugly.”
However the most famous stories that have endured through time tend to depict them as beautiful tiny creatures with a good heart, although they may be good at disguising that characteristic until the very end. They have definitely delighted and enchanted children through the ages.
There are some people who contend that a small faction of fairies still exist upon the face of the earth, and that they are necessary to help maintain balance in nature as the planet continues to undergo massive climate shifts as well as the devastation that mankind has heaped upon our fair planet.
With the advent of digital photography, some light “orbs” captured in photos has show that when blown up in size, some of these orbs, originally thought to possibly be ghosts or other ethereal beings’ spirit form, possess antennae, wings and delightful little faces. Photos of this ilk tend to show up in pictures taken in someone’s backyard or garden. So even in this 21st century, fairies tend to live out in nature, and that is perhaps easy to believe, that they would prefer that to hiding indoors in some human’s dusty, confined dwelling.
There is far too little happiness and magic in this present day world fraught with fear and danger – the advancement of terrorism, increasing identity theft and other scams have reached record proportion in this 21st century. When we give into fear (someone long ago coined the acronym “False Evidence Appearing Real”) this world becomes an incredibly scary place and many people wind up frozen by it – never pursuing their heart’s desire or fondest dreams, and therefore never knowing if they could have lived their life differently and wound up being incredibly content and happy, rather than frightened of their own shadow.
Light always overcomes darkness; perhaps even the most minuscule granule of willingness to believe in the existence of good fairies could go a long way to help dispel our inner and outward darkness. It doesn’t cost anything to give it a try – you could start simply, by spending more time outdoors in the beautiful tranquility of nature. Perhaps meditating, drawing or painting, reading, or playing outdoors as children used to do before their hands seemingly became glued to video game controllers and computer keyboards and mice.
If you decide to embark upon such an uplifting adventure, do so with a pure heart, clear mind and no set expectations other than the desire to commune with nature, and take a break from the bombardment of negativity that pervades broadcast news. Going “on hiatus” from the news is a healthy thing to do, at least from time to time. And who knows? You may encounter some amazing fairies along the way!
In the words of Peter Pan, at least once in awhile, “clap your hands if you believe in fairies” – because if you do not, they may all die and never return or reveal themselves, and that much more magic and enchantment once part of this old world will surely fade away. If you are a parent, older sibling, grandparent, teacher or other adult who has children in your life, why not encourage them to clap along with you, and to read about the magical kingdom of the fairies? It can only bring more light and laughter to a world in dire need of both.