A History of Fairies from Around the World
A History of Faeries
Ever wonder where the idea of little people with wings came from? Maybe you haven't, maybe you have. Either way, if you're here to learn about the deep and intriguing history of fairies then you've come to the right place.
Pull up a log (or a toadstool if you're of the wee-folk kind) and get ready to hear some of the most captivating tales of the history of fairies. You will hear stories that will entrance you, as well as history of fairies that will delight you. You might even learn something about the faeries that you never knew before.
A Short, Informative Video About the Tuatha de Danann
Ireland's Beliefs in the Faerie Folk
Probably the most well-known country for believing in the "wee folk" is Ireland. Usually the image of a small man decked out in green clothing with a pot of Lucky Charms floods our mind with happy, playful images. However, the leprechaun isn't the only type of faerie that Ireland boasts. Throughout the centuries, Ireland has been known to believe in dozens of kinds of faeries. Some were presumed to be benevolent, while others were the exact opposite...let's just say you didn't want to be out at night and cross paths with some of the faeries in Ireland.
The Irish belief in the faerie folk was prominent for many years because the people didn't just believe in faeries...if you would ask them if they believe, they would tell you that they "know" that faeries existed. If we were to travel back in time to when the Celtic people ruled Ireland, we would find many customs and traditions in place focusing on the faerie folk. One of those traditions was setting a pail of cream and bread out by the front door on certain nights in order to appease the faerie folk.
It is truly unknown as to whether or not the Celtic people of Ireland actually worked with faeries in religious rites or not. There is much speculation and many of today's modern Pagans following the Celtic path claim that the Celts in Ireland did indeed work with faerie magick. We can only speculate as there is no proof that they did.
The different types of faerie folk that lived (and live) in Ireland include but aren't limited to: leprechauns, Bean-sidhe (banshee), the Dullahan, merrows, Leanan-sidhe (leanan-shee), clurichauns, pookas, will-o-wisps, and the list could go on and on. But where do these faerie beings come from? Have they been here before we were here?
One theory of the Irish states that the history of faeries starts when the Tuatha De Danann ruled Ireland...long before man came to rule the Emerald Isle. The Tuatha de Danann was a race of gods and goddesses that lived in Ireland centuries and centuries ago. It is believed that when man (the Gaelic peoples) came to the Emerald Isle, the Tuatha de Danann were forced into hiding...some believe they retreated into the hills and the earth, while others believe that they left this plane of existence and entered into another one.
Another theory of Irish faery folk origins is that the faeries were once a tiny race of Neolithic people that lived in Ireland that were driven into hiding during the Iron Age...when larger and stronger men came to rule the Emerald Isle. This is why many people who work with faery magick say that faeries won't come near the metal Iron.
Up until the late 1800s, the Irish still believed so strongly in the faeries that one man killed his wife because he believed that she was really a faery in disguise and that his real wife had been taken by the fay. This idea of "Changelings" is deeply rooted in faery beliefs and more can be read about the Changelings by clicking here.
Scotland & England's History of Fairies
Just as the Irish had their beliefs in the Leprechauns and merrows, so did the English have their beliefs in the faery folk. The history of faeries doesn't stop in Ireland, to be sure. During the time of the Celts' rule in Europe, England also was ruled by the Celtic people...a people who very strongly believed in the spiritual realm and acknowledged a mundane existence of the faery folk just as the Irish Celts and Gaels did.
In a land where the trees were respected and honored, you can bet there was a belief in faeries who lived in those trees. Dryads (though Greek in total origin) were believed to have been in England at some point, as the name of the Druids is attributed to these tree spirits. It is said that the Dryads are who gave their knowledge to the Celtic priests called Druids (hence the name).
There were not only benevolent faeries in England but also the more malevolent. The Black Annis of Leicestershire was said to enjoy the taste of human flesh, particularly little children. While people warned their kids not to go near the area of Dane Hills in Leicestershire because of the Black Annis, my theory on this faery is that she was indeed a Pagan Goddess from the Celts' times and when Christianity came to England she was denounced a demon or evil spirit. This happened in many cases with the faery folk...who knows if the Black Annis ever really ate anyone!
Spriggans were also said to be malicious in certain aspects. Spriggans were closely related to Pixies in appearance, but they were said to lead unsuspecting and curious people to their deaths off of cliffs and other dangerous places. It is said that the Spriggans lived in ruins of castles and other ancient places...maybe it is possible that the Spriggans were actually guardians of sacred places in England? Maybe they are only being protective of their only land that they have left? Just a thought...
The History of Faeries in England also includes stories about Will o' the Wisps, brownies, giants, ogres, elves, gnomes, and piskies (pixies). And let's not forget the belief and stories of people who have met mermaids off England's shores. In England, if a mermaid was seen, it usually signified a brewing storm of some other tragedy.
Another theory in the history of faeries as to where the faery folk originate is one that came from the Church. After the fay were demoted from magickal beings and gods into disgusting demons and devils who seduced humans into doing their will, it was often said that the faeries could also have been the souls of the Pagan people from before Christianity was brought to Europe. These Pagan souls had no chance to go to Heaven or Hell, because they didn't ever hear of the real God, and so their souls were destined to be trapped on Earth...or so the Church taught. These faeries that were Pagan lost souls were actually caught in some form of "limbo", if you will. (In my opinion, this theory is the vaguest and least believable...but in a sense I am definitely biased.)
Scotland also had their prevalent beliefs in the faeries, much of which seemed to be very close in nature to England's beliefs and even Ireland's beliefs.
One of my favorite faeries from the Scottish tradition is the brownie. The brownie is a very short, stubby sort of faery that has no wings but is quite loveable. They wear brown with little brown hats and were believed to live in a family's home in order to aid the woman of the house in her chores. When everyone was sleeping at night and after the lady of the house had gone to bed, the brownie would awaken and come out from the cabinet or closet where he slept during the day in order to pick up the things that the mother didn't have time to get to during that day. Brownies are said to love people who are hard-workers and who are grateful. They don't like laziness and they don't tolerate liars. Actually, the younger girl scouts in America known as "brownies" acquired their name from this faery! The belief in the brownie travelled to the United States by way of the Scottish immigrants, or so the historians and folklorists believe.
Selkies are said to have origins on the Shetland and Orkney Islands but have been seen in various places on Scotland shores. These are shapeshifting sea spirits and have many intriguing legends about them. Selkies can appear as though they are human but shift into the form of a seal and live in the sea. Stories are told about a fisherman who had found and hid the seal skin of a female selkie, thereby making the selkie his loyal and beautiful wife for decades. Until the wife finds her seal skin and takes back to the ocean...leaving the fisherman forever alone. In order for a woman to entice contact with a male selkie she must stand on the seashore and cry seven tears into the water.
The Cailleac Bhuer (Call-y'ac V'fhoor) is the Scottish version of the Black Annis from England. She is also associated with the name the Stone Woman and The Blue Hag. It is very likely that she is a faerie who has been demonized from her status of the Crone Goddess from Pagan days. The Cailleac Bhuer looks like an old woman (a crone) with a walking stick and a familiar crow sitting on her shoulder. She walks alone through the Higlands at night, where many people fear coming face to face with her...for it is said if one is touched by her staff then they shall die instantly.
Asia's Belief in Faeries
Our History of Faeries even takes us to the majestic land of Asia. That's right...you didn't think faeries exist in Asia? Of course they do...they are worldwide.
I recently talked to someone from Southeast Asia who said that there was one particular forest that no one would travel through because the locals believed there were dangerous faeries who lived in the trees. The word for faeries in Asia differs from that of the word in Europe and America; however, the belief in magickal or otherworldly spirits has existed and still persists.
The Chin-Chin Kobakama in Japan are said to look very similar to elves but always appear to be older. They could be compared to the Scottish brownie and are said to bless and protect the floors of a home. If you keep your house clean, particularly your floors, the Chin-Chin Kobakama are thought to live in your home and keep intruders or pests away. However, if you don't keep a clean home or have entirely too messy of children, the Chin-Chin Kobakama will tease lazy and messy people.
Think about the belief in the Chinese Dragon...was this Dragon indeed a remnant dinosaur or was he really a type of faery? If you have it in your head that all faery beings were small or human-like, think again! Could the Chinese Dragon relate to the elemental Salamander in some form or fashion? Elementals are different from faeries in many ways, but yet they are related...just as we all are related.
The Gandharvas in India are said to live underground and are thought to be musically talented. The only mention of these spirits in Indian lore is in the old Sanskrit poetry. It is speculated that these faeries are earth spirits and don't usually show their faces to humans any longer but may have once long ago. Other legends say that the Gandharvas may have been worshipers of the same Hindu gods from centuries ago.
Greece & Italy's Beliefs in Faeries
I recently wrote a hub about the Fairy Witch Trials of Sicily, you can read that by clicking on the link at the end of this hub. The donas de fuera, faeries who led humans into serving them, were known to be seductive but graceful. There was one woman who claimed that the donas de fuera called for her to deny her belief in the Christian God and the Mother of God and to serve the Faerie Queen and King as the true gods. The woman did as they asked of her, and then she was granted with gifts such as money and sexual pleasure. These Italian faeries were believed to have inhabited the island of Sicily at one point. These faeries were beautiful creatures but were said to have the hooves of a goat or the paws of a cat as their feet.
The moniciello has a deep history in Italy. He is a distant relative to the Irish leprechaun and is thought to have protected family wine cellars and sometimes vineyards. Unfortunately though, the moniciello had a reputation for getting so drunk that things would sometimes slip right passed him!
Dryads are originally thought to have been from Greece but traveled all over Europe, even landing in England (as mentioned previously). These tree spirits were thought to be wise and gorgeous. However, if you invaded their space or paid no honor to the trees, they could be quite treacherous. Dryads were thought to have looked after Zeus when he was just a baby. Those were the ash-tree sisters called the Meliai. Different types of dryads were associated with the different trees.
The folletti are weather faeries from Italy's history of faeries. They were thought to have lived in Sicily and would change the weather just for the sheer fun of it. Folletti were hard to catch and barely ever made themselves seen to humans, but when they were once seen the eyewitness claimed that their toes pointed backwards! Their favorite element is wind and they wear red and supposedly live in hollowed out oak trees. The folletti have been accused of creating terrible storms and even caused earthquakes and erupting volcanoes.
As you can see, almost every culture has their history of fairies...just by different names.
More on Faeries:
- Faerie Folklore: The Changeling
The ancient peoples of Europe, specifically the Celtic people, believed in the "wee folk" or the "fae", but they not only believed in them...they feared most of them. The faeries gave the ancient people reasons to fear them, as they were mysterious a
- Faerie Folklore: Elves and Pixies
The elves and the pixies are two common faeries seen in faerie folklore from Europe. What are the elves and the pixies origins and why do these two faeries capture our attention and imagination like no other faeries can?
History of Fairies: Fairies in Modern Times
The fairies in modern times have been distorted and mutated into something that they have never been. The Disney's character Tinkerbell, while cute and fun for children, only depicts the type of faerie that everyone dreams and pictures every faerie to be. In reality, not all faeries were cute and small with shimmery wings. In fact, the majority of the fay looked (or look) nothing like Tinkerbell and her posse.
There has been an emergence of Pagans studying the ways of faery magick and faery craft. There is so much to learn about the faerie folk and very little information based on fact out there at this point, one has to really discern the true legend from the false media lies.
I believe in faeries and I believe there is a thick and detailed history of faeries from each culture and region around the world. Some are hidden or named something else entirely, but there is a history of fairies nevertheless. I will continue my studies and search for the fay until the day I die...or until the day someone proves my belief wrong. Which I highly doubt will ever happen.
© 2012 Nicole Canfield