A fairy is a small imaginary being of human form that has magical powers. In modern times they are mostly considered female, though ancient and medieval fairies were both male and female. Sprites, pixies, elves, imps and brownies are all part of the fairy world. The common notion of a fairy today is that they are tiny creatures that fly about in flimsy clothing with gossamer wings, waving magic wands.
FACT 1: The word fairy comes from the Old French word faerie. It describes a supernatural being. The human perception of fairies has undergone a phenomenal change of perception from medieval to modern times. This is reflected in the literature of the times. Celtic, English German and Slavic folklore abounds with fairy tradition. The nymphs of Greek mythology are fairies and fairies appear in Homers Iliad and Odyssey.
FACT 2: Fairies appear in the English tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The Knights were either born of fairy mothers or took fairies as lovers. The oldest fairy on record in England is described by the historian Gervase in the 13th century. Chaucer (1342 to 1400) mentions fairies. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I fairies were popularised by William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Famous fairy characters created by Shakespeare are Puck, Titania and Oberon.
FACT 3: Early notions of a fairy was that they were like ghosts, spirits of the dead or fallen angles too bad for heaven but not bad enough for hell. People did not refer to them by name but called them ‘Little People’ or ‘Hidden People’.
FACT 4: There are hundreds of types of fairies. Some are minute, some grotesque, some fly but all have the ability to appear or disappear at will. In Aberdeenshire (Scotland) brownies and other hobgoblins are guardian fairies. They are hideous creatures with no toes or fingers. They do the house work. In the Scottish Lowlands they have a hole instead of a nose. Goblins and bugaboos are considered malignant.
FACT 5: Banshees are sinister and their appearance foretells a tragedy. In Highland tradition a web footed, buck toothed hag with one nostril is seen washing the blood stained clothes of men about to die a violent death.
FACT 6: Nature fairies are the spirits of trees and are thought to be descendants of pre Christian gods and goddesses. The Celtic goddess Danu is considered the mother of all Irish cave fairies.
FACT 7: Belief in fairies continues in modern times. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) the famous Scottish author, talks about his belief in the ‘Cottingley Fairies’, in his book ‘The Coming of the Fairies’ The Cottingley Fairies refers to a series of five photographs taken in 1917 by two teenaged girls. The photos show fairies as small humans with period haircuts, dressed in flimsy gowns and a pair of large wings. As late as 1962, a farmer’s wife in Somerset claimed that, when she was lost a small man in green clothes suddenly appeared to guide her home.
FACT 8: In Asia, the Chinese have the Mogwai, fairy folk that possess supernatural powers and often harm humans. Tien are Vietnamese fairies. The Yakshas are found in Hindu and Buddhist folklore. They may be inoffensive nature fairies associated with mountains and woods or the darker types that waylay and devour travellers.
FACT 9: Famous fairy tales like ’Little red Riding Hood’ written by Charles Perrault, are variants of tales from as far back as 2600 years ago, recounted by various cultures.. A Chinese version of the tale has a tiger in place of the wolf. A fairy tale does not necessarily involve fairies; there are no fairies in Little Red Riding Hood. The presence of magic is the essential element of a fairy tale.
FACT 10: Walt Disney has immortalised the modern vision of a fairy. Tinkerbell, though wicked, is an adorable tiny little creature, sprinkling pixie dust to create such magic as flying children. The breathtakingly beautiful fairy godmother in Cinderella, the dumpy little fairies of Sleeping Beauty and many others have captured the imagination of little girls all over the world.