The Story of the Fairy Folk

Blogpic-ET-fairies-1151x1763Fairy comes from the Old French word faerie. The word has been overused to describe a supernatural being. There is a great deal of difference in classifying a being as a fairy from the medieval literature and those from modern literature, especially those belonging to the Celtic tradition.

There are other traditions such as that found in English, German and Slavic folklores.

Today, when we think of fairies, we often visualize them as tiny, supernatural beings with wings and glowing with uncommon light in today’s children fairy tales. And they also possessed some sorts of strange magical powers, like Tinklebell in the story of Peter Pan or the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella. The modern fairies, between the 18th and 20th century, comes from oral tradition before they were transmitted into writing.

The fairies are supernatural beings that can be best described by the Greek word – daimon, which means “spirit”. They are not divinity, ie. god or goddess, in the usual sense of the word, and yet they are not mere mortal; often, it is easier to classify them as minor divinity.

Blogpic-ET-fairies-550x451However, if we look at the idea of fairies, then you would find that have been around a lot longer than everyone expects. Perhaps the earliest form of faeries can be found loosely in the mythical beings in Greek mythology, such as the nymphs, satyrs and sileni. The nymphs from ancient Greek myths can be considered as fairies and they existed as early as the time of Homer writing the Iliad and the Odyssey. Even the river gods in Greek myths can be classified as fairies. These are spirits or minor deities of nature or of the natural phenomena.

And then, there are household or guardian spirits that can be found in Roman religion and mythology, such as the penates, lares and genii.

The Norse versions of the fairies are the wide variety of elves and the dísir that exist in the Teutonic traditions. The Valkyries could also be classified as fairies.

Blogpic-ET-fairies-900x1188It was during the time of Queen Elizabeth I of England, where William Shakespeare (1564-1616) had popularised fairies in English folklore, in his play Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the characters Oberon, Titania and Puck (Robin Goodfellow). Earlier than Shakespeare, Chaucer (1342-1400) mentioned that the land of Britain was filled with fairies before the time of King Arthur.

In the Arthurian legends, the divine or fairy figures also appeared in abundance. Morgan, Arthur’s half-sister, seemed to be great sorceress and healer, was often called Morgan le Fay; her nickname Fay, which means “Fairy”. And then there is this Lady of the Lake. Arthur’s wife, Guinevere, or Gwenhwyfar in the Welsh tradition, also appeared to be a fairy, as well as the sovereignty goddess. Many knights were either born from fairies or they took female fairies as their lovers. Even Merlin was only part mortal.

Then you would discover that that these images of fairies are not the only kind. There were all sorts in fairy tales and folklores. Some are benign, while others are maligned and hostile to mortals. Some were seen as fair, while others were considered ugly and monstrous to look at. They can come in all size and sizes – tall or short, fat or skinny, so there is really no clear definition of fairies may look like. Different types of fairies may also have different types of magical powers.

Blogpic-ET-fairies-368x500So, what are these fairies? Where do they come from?

To understand what they are, we should look at some of those found in Celtic mythology and other Celtic traditions. But, then you would discover that fairies are not just confined in Celtic traditions. Many cultures and civilizations have their own versions of fairies.

There are enough kinds of fairies to confuse anyone, because sometimes writers have associated one fairy with a different kind.

In Celtic religion, there was Celtic deities in Gaul (France and Belgium), Hispania (Spain) and Britannia (Britain) during the Roman occupation of these regions or provinces. But the situation changed when Christianity spread to the west and north. These deities that were worshipped before the conversion to Christianity were reduced to the status of fairies in Celtic mythology and folklore.

So in Ireland the gods in the Tuatha De Danann were degenerated to the roles of fairies (eg. Dagda and Lugh), people living under the dune mound or fabled islands, or even within underwater domains. Similar degeneration occurred with old deities in Wales, Scotland and other surviving pockets of Celtic kingdoms (such as Cornwall, Brittany and island of Man).

Blogpic-ET-fairies-312x450These earlier Celtic traditions of fairies, the former Irish or Welsh deities were also not fairies in the usual sense. They looked very much like human, in size and shape, except that they have special magical powers and they seemed eternally young, but they don’t have wings. The Dananns or their Welsh counterparts were usually seen as race of fair people. They can die just as mortals can, but their lives could last hundreds or even thousands of years.

The problem is that sometimes, the Christian authors have also turned them into beings serving the Devil, and that the fairies were actually demons. However this view is no longer shared, today.

These medieval fairies are different from the common folklore and fairy tales of today. The Tuatha de Danann is nothing like the brownie, leprechaun and goblin of these later traditions.

 

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