by Audrey Harper
Also known as fae or fair folk, fairies are mythical beings that come from European folklore, particularly from Celtic, Slavic, German, English, and French folklore. They are a type of spirit, often described as being supernatural, metaphysical, or preternatural. Due to being the result of folklore, fairies have no specific origin story. They are the subject of multiple tales from multiple sources.
There are some theories to where fairies come from and what they are. In Christian tradition, fairies have been considered to be demoted angels or demons. In pre-Christian, Pagan beliefs, fairies are considered to be minor deities, such as spirits of the dead or elementals. Others think that fairies could be a species independent of humans, or even prehistorical precursors to humans.
The label of “fairy” is usually applied to magical creatures with a human appearance, and can also be used to label goblins and gnomes. Folklore ranges in descriptions, calling them small in stature or tall with pointed ears, or claim they always go barefoot or wear shoes. Some lore says they all have green eyes. Some lore says they all wear grey. What remains the same, however, is that they all have magic powers and have an aptitude for trickery.
Fairies were not depicted with wings until the Victorian Era.
According to Scottish folklore, there are two courts of fairies. There’s the Seelie Court, which is mostly benign, yet still plays tricks on humans, and there’s the Unseelie Court. The Unseelie Court is much more malicious, going as far as bringing harm to humans for the sake of entertainment. Fairies are very location oriented, and many tales point out locations that should be avoided or shunned to avoid offending or provoking any fairies that may reside there.
Some harmless pranks fairies are known for include: leading travelers astray in the woods with will-o’-the-wisps, sneaking into homes at night to tie sleeping people’s hair into knots, and the use of illusions. An infamous example of illusions would be fairy gold, which appears like real money upon payment, but later reveals itself to be leaves, twigs, or other useless things.
When it comes to harmful things fairies can do, some of the most notorious stories about them are stories about changelings. Changelings are fairy children, left in the beds of human children who have been stolen from their families and taken to live with the fairies. According to some folklore, these human children were taken to either strengthen fairy stock or used as gifts to the devil. This also stems from the belief that infants are more susceptible to demonic possession than adults.
Fairies are often blamed for illnesses like tuberculosis, or even birth deformities. If someone were to die suddenly, it was considered a fairy kidnapping. A kidnapping of the soul, if you will.
To protect oneself from fairies, or to ward them off, one of the best things to do is wear charms. Charms that have been considered effective are: church bells, wearing your clothes inside out, four leaf clovers, food, charms made of rowan, and cold iron. Food can be used as a sort of peace offering, whereas the other charms are mainly for protection.
But if there was no avoiding an interaction with a fairy, then it would be pertinent to know some etiquette, as it might just keep you out of the Unseelie Court. Never accept a gift, dance with a fairy, give them clothes, or eat their food. Never stray from the path should you find yourself in their territory. Always keep your word and remember your manners, but never say “thank you.”
And most importantly, never give them your name.