Who doesn’t love a fairy story? We are going to share some background to fairies from all over the world and try and answer some of the most asked questions –
- What do fairies live in?
- What are popular Fairy Myths?
- Where do fairies live?
- What are Mythical fairy names?
- What do fairies do/say/look like/come out?
- What is Fairy Magic?
- Why do people believe in fairies?
- What are Mythical Fairies?
- What are Pixie Fairies?
The World of Mythology and Folklore
Fairy Glens are areas in Ireland where fairies tend to live or have lived before.
Taking you on a magical journey into the world of mythology and folklore, the world of fairies. Fairies are said to be supernatural beings with magical powers. I believe it would be hard to find someone who has not at least believed in tooth fairies during their childhood, being a big part of it.
The fairy mythical world is not real. Yet many people love to lose themselves in fairy tales that would paint them a picture more beautiful than reality. In a world of fairies, anything is possible. It’s a world with happy endings.
Fairies in Different Cultures
In different cultures, fairies come in various versions. They are either called ancestral spirits, nature spirits, or even beings inhabiting the underground, in an invisible mysterious place, or inside prehistoric earth mounds and forts.
For starters, let’s take a look at the etymology of the word fairy. It originates from the Middle English word faerie. As well as fairie, fayerye and feirie, which were borrowed from the Old French faerie. Which meant enchantment or the land of enchantment. Fairy comes from the root fay or fae from faery or faerie, meaning ‘realm of the fays’.
Powers of Fairies
As supernatural creatures, fairies have different magical powers based on what kind of fairy it is. Each kind has its own marking powers. Even though they may use their powers to help or harm humans. They do not use them on their own kind or other fairies. It is speculated that their powers do not work on each other. Among the variety of powers, fairies posses are: invisibility, luck, healing, foresight, enhanced senses, flight, resistance, shadow melding, animal communication, illumination, etc.
Most fairies are invisible to the naked eye. However, they can show themselves whenever they want. They can also make a person invisible by giving them some magical item that can make them go invisible. Some fairies have the ability to heal. Either by using some kind of ointment on the skin or in some of its food. Even their touch can have a healing effect, but that’s rare among fairies; only a few have this power.
Fairies in folklore and mythology can be divided into three types. These are physical fairies, spiritual fairies, and ethereal fairies.
Physical does not necessarily mean existing in solid form, but rather have a defined stable form. And often have sort of a human-like mind. They have physical abilities that surpass those of humans. Their reflexes are super quick and can make precise and speedy movements anytime, in addition to their enhanced strength. They can even change their body to a certain degree.
Spiritual fairies, however, are far less bound to a single form. Among their multiple powers are the ability to engage their minds with the universe. The ability to know others’ emotions, possess the body of a powerful spirit, and many others.
The ethereal ones are the most ancient and powerful fairies. As powerful as they are, they have the ability of space-time manipulation, resurrection, limitless shape lifting, creating limitless amounts of energy to be used for almost anything, and other powers as well.
Fairies in the Irish Culture
Believing in the fairy world or the existence of supernatural beings parallel to mortals was strongly widespread in the Irish folk tradition. Good they were or evil, respected or feared. Many of the Irish beliefs in fairies and superstitions, in general, can be dated back to a Celtic tradition which could not be rooted out by the Catholic Church.
However, these myths gradually merged with Christianity, which led to the growth of rich Irish fairy tales of nature spirits, giants, magical sea-folk, and dark figures that augured death. And as a result of this integration, those fairy tale characters were believed to be angels who did not fit well enough in heaven or in hell and were accordingly fallen from both.
Even though with the advancement of modern science, the Irish fairies are no longer truly believe in. They remain an enriching element of the Irish culture. The Irish, for centuries, believed in the existence of magical creatures. Such as the Tuatha de Danann (i.e. people of the goddess Dana), leprechauns, pookas, selkies (seal-folk), merrows (mer-people) and the dreaded Banshee.
Tuatha de Danann
Tuatha de Danann are men of the goddess Dana and was named after her. They were a mythical and magical race. Who were the fifth group to have resided in Ireland and conquered the Firbolgs and Fomorians, consequently ruling the country for three thousand years. They were said to have come from four northern cities: Falias, Finias, Gorias and Murias to the mountains of Conmaicne Rein in Ireland on May 1st, according to the Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology by Theresa Bane. Having arrived in Ireland, dark clouds accompanied them for three days.
The Tuatha de Danaan were then battled by the Milesians over the rule of Ireland. But neither side won and they came to an agreement that would serve the interests of both parties. A truce was concluded and both parties agreed that the Milesians would rule the surface world. While the Tuatha de Danaan would rule the rest, including the invisible islands, the fairy mounds and the underworld. Maintaining the interaction between the two worlds only when the veil between is thin.
More on Tuatha de Danann
Besides being a magical race descending from goddess Dana or Danu, they excelled in poetry and science. Being aristocratic, as described long ago, fair-skinned, well fit, tall with red hair. They would dress up in their finest attire and ride their amazing horses, parading whenever occasion permits. The story tells that each of these men would build their own Fairy Fort, such as the well known Knockshegowna, a townland in the Barony of Ormond Lower, County Tipperary, Ireland.
Cliodna: A Fairy Queen
Among the fairies of the Tuatha de Danaan was Cliodna, a woman of the Sidhe who lived in a sidh in Cork County, Ireland. She was the fairy queen of South Munster, owing allegiance to King Finvarra and Queen Onagh. She is said to have accidentally drowned in Glandore Harbor in South Cork. And in the caves at the foot of the cliffs in the ocean where she drowned, it is believed that loud melancholic howl was heard occasionally as a symbol of the sea grief for her death.
Long ago the Irish believed in the existence of shape-lifting people whom they named Selkies. Who were beings that lived under the sea as seals but were able to change their seal skin into human form. People said they were cursed, constantly yearning to be on land when they were at sea in seal form and longing to be in the sea when they walked in their human form. However, they enjoyed the freedom and hated being tied down.
Tales of the Sea-Folk
Many tales were told of these beautiful people along the years. Among which there is this story of a beautiful selkie woman. Whose sealskin was stolen by Neil Mac Coddrum, a man who wanted to marry her. Having begged him not to take her skin, he refused and she was forced to stay with him as his wife.
Then she discovered where her sealskin was hidden a while after feeling powerless without it, put it on and disappeared into the sea, turning her back to her husband, and assured her children that they would be able to hear her singing from time to time, being half-selkies themselves. From time to time they would hear her singing, calling them to crash into the waves and come to her.
Films on Selkies
Even movies were made on the selkies myth, The Secret of Roan Inish for example in 1994, which is a fantasy/drama film “about 10-year-old Fiona is sent to live with her grandparents in a small fishing village in Donegal, Ireland. She soon learns the local legend that an ancestor of hers married a Selkie.
A seal who can turn into a human. Years earlier, her baby brother washed out to sea in a cradle shaped like a boat. Someone in the family believes the boy is being raised by the seals. Then Fiona catches sight of a naked little boy on the abandoned Isle of Roan Inish and takes an active role in uncovering the secret of Roan Inish” as cited on IMDB.
Don’t those selkies remind you of mermaids? The redheaded maidens with fishtail as the bottom half, who sang mesmerising songs that lured anyone who hears them. We can say that mermaids are the more familiar version of selkies, who were originally called merrows from the Irish ‘muir oigh’ (i.e. sea maid or mermaid).
Irish Fairy and Folk Tales by W. B Yeats
The Irish poet W. B. Yeats reported in his Irish Fairy and Folk Tales, “Near Bantry in the last century, there is said to have been a woman, covered in scales like a fish, who was descended from such a marriage”.
The Film Ondine
In 2009, the movie Ondine was produced, reviving the legend of merrows. It is a “lyrical modern fairy tale that tells the story of Syracuse (Colin Farrell), an Irish fisherman whose life is transformed when he catches a beautiful and mysterious woman (Alicja Bachleda) in his nets. His daughter Annie (Alison Barry) comes to believe that the woman is a magical creature, while Syracuse falls helplessly in love. However, like all fairy tales, enchantment and darkness go hand in hand” IMDB.
Different Kinds of Fairies
Pixies come in various versions in different kinds of literature. Pixies, in southwestern England folklore, are elvish creatures or fairies dressed in green who dance in the moonlight to the music of crickets and frogs.
They find their amusement in leading people off and frightening young girls. They also love to rap on walls, play in the water, and blow out candles. Pixies were first portrayed by British author Anna Eliza Bray in The Borders of the Tamar and the Tavy, 3 vol. (1837).
This reminds us of the Cornish pixies, 8 inches tall rowdy creatures, that were released from a cage by Gilderoy Lockhart in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. In an attempt to teach students how to defeat them in his Defence Against the Dark Arts class. However, J. K. Rowling’s version of Pixies were blue.
As a kid – and an adult too actually – I was a big fan of the American animated series The Fairly OddParents. In this series pixies appeared as anti-fairies secondary characters, whose main goal is to take over the fairy world and Earth as well, treating their magical powers as a business.
All over the world, the Tooth Fairy takes different forms across various cultures. Baby teeth are either buried to spare children from hardships in the afterlife, thrown at the sun, burned, ground up and swallowed, or believed to be exchanged by magical creatures for a gift or money.
Lost baby teeth were even worn by the Vikings in some sort of necklace, after paying a ‘tooth fee’ to the children, believing it would bring them luck in their battles. Nonetheless, across different cultures, we can say that the Tooth Fairy is a concept marking children’s transition from infancy to childhood.
Where did the Tooth Fairy Come from?
The origin of the Tooth Fairy is one of the least historically documented stories in Western civilisation folklore. Up to the mid-20th century, people in England tended to say tooth fairies in plural rather than the “tooth fairy.” Which is probably an Americanisation according to Victoria Williams’ Celebrating Life Customs around the World: From Baby Showers to Funerals.
Some other suggestions have been made regarding the origin of the tooth fairy. It is said, for instance, that the tooth fairy is inspired from the figure of Marantega, a toothless witch from Italian folklore, who left coins in exchange for children’s lost baby teeth during their sleep.
Another suggestion, however, is that she is derived from the Northern European figure of the tand-fé, a character built up in very early Norse literature (i.e. literature of the vernacular Scandinavian peoples), such as Icelandic Eddas of the 13th century, who paid children for their lost baby teeth.
More Tooth Fairy Origin Stories
It is also suggested that the Tooth Fairy is derived from two French traditions: the first was that Virgin Mary exchanged children’s lost teeth, which they put under their pillows, for toys or coins.
The second was that lost baby teeth were exchanged for candy rather than money by a good fairy. Suggestions even reached Alexandria, Egypt, in the 2nd century BCE when Saint Apollonia, the patron saint of dentistry, was said to be an equivalent to the Tooth Fairy.
Real Life Fairies
Recently, there have been claims of fairies existing in real life, even caught on camera. Lisa Wildgoose took a photo in the ancient Bluebell Woods near Towcester, Northampton. The photo shows when zoomed in, a tiny fairy flying near a drooping bluebell.
The little creature might be just a mosquito or a midge, but Lisa thinks it is probably wearing what looks like trousers and shoes. The little girl in her loves to think it might be a real fairy. University Lecturer John Hyatt captured photos of what can only be described as tiny humanoids with wings, or fairies. His photos created a huge debate between the scientific community and people who believe in the supernatural.
As intriguing as it might be, these stories can pretty much be a hoax and there has yet to be any solid proof that they do exist. Just over a hundred years ago, the existence of fairies was strongly believed in Ireland and rural areas of Britain.
In Ireland 1968, it was reported that workmen refused to cut down a tree, believed to be visited frequently by fairies. Which led to the alteration in the course of a new road in Donegal. They believed the fact that the roots of the tree defied a hurricane, even though they were a couple of feet underground, was something uncanny, and they would not risk cutting down a fairy tree.
Fairies in Children’s Fiction
Fairies or fairy tales play a big role in developing children’s imagination. Stories of witches, wizards, dragons, princesses, good and evil fairies still abound in fantastic tales for bedtime stories or young adults.
The classic fairy tales are even being revived in modern movies.
Sleeping Beauty, or in French La Belle au bois dormant by Charles Perrault, or Little Briar Rose by the Brothers Grimm, a classic fairy tale of a beautiful princess on whom a sleeping enchantment is cast and only awaken by a kiss of true love.
Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather are the protagonists of Walt Disney’s 1959 film Sleeping Beauty. They are characterised as Princess Aurora’s fairy godmothers, who appear at baby Aurora’s christening to present their gifts to her, as well as her guardians or parents. Over the years, different versions of Sleeping Beauty emerge.
In 2014, Sleeping Beauty was tackled from a different angle in Maleficent starring Angelina Jolie. “A vengeful fairy is driven to curse an infant princess, only to discover that the child may be the one person who can restore peace to their troubled land”, IMDB. In the movie, true love was not found in a handsome prince, but rather in Maleficent herself.
Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper is a folk tale embodying a myth-element of unjust oppression, first written in its popular version by Charles Perrault in 1697 and later by the Brothers Grimm in their folk tale collection Grimms’ Fairy Tales.
We all know the story of the girl living with her mean stepmother and her two stepsisters who treat her horribly and refuse to take her to the ball. Then her fairy godmother comes to her, dresses her in a beautiful gown and gets her a beautiful carriage to take her to the ball. Cinderella meets the prince, they dance together and fall in love.
However, she has to leave before midnight or else she transforms back to her earlier poor attire, leaving a shoe behind. The Prince takes the shoe all over the kingdom looking for her till he finally finds her, get married and live happily ever after. The Cinderella fairy tale is presented differently in several movies, such as Another Cinderella Story (2008) in a more modern narrative.
The Rostrevor Fairy Glen in 360 Degree Video –
The Children of Lir
Children of Lir is one of the famous Irish fairy tales. Lir and his wife Ove have four children. She dies and then he marries her sister Oifa who gets jealous of the children and orders a servant to kill them. However, he refuses, so she attempts to kill them herself but could not. She doesn’t have the courage to kill the children, so instead she casts a magic spell on them.
Turning them into four white swans at Lake Derravaragh in County Westmeath, leaving them there for four hundred years. But she feels guilty for what she’s done to them and allows the children to retain the ability to talk and make the most beautiful music.
The story comes in different versions though having the same core. The tale is based on a legend that reached Ireland from either Britain or France by the end of the Middle Ages. This story has parallels with the tale of Mad Sweeney who was cursed to grow feathers like a bird and fly from tree to tree.
Fairies also are known as the Hidden People
People used to believe in fairies, but didn’t like to mention them by name and thus referred to them by other names: the Little People or the Hidden People. There are many different kinds of fairies, some are minute beings, others are unpleasant to look at, some of them can fly, and all can appear and disappear at will.
Nature fairies are perhaps mostly descendants of pre-Christian gods and goddesses or are spirits of streams and trees. Our fictions and even our thinking about the past or the present are full of things like fairies.
A long time ago there were several species, almost human, whom our ancestors encountered with fear and wonder at the same time. Now we refer to those species differently since we’ve delved into science and knew exactly what they were. Our ancestors perhaps remembered them as elves, dwarves, giants, or goblins.
Have you any fairy stories or tales you were told about and would like to share them with us? Please let us know!
Related articles that might interest you: Rostrevor County Down | Beware The Wall of the Banshee | Leprechauns: the Famous Tiny- Bodied Fairies of Ireland | Dive into the Finest Legends and Tales of the Irish Mythology | The Unfolded History of Gaelic Ireland throughout the centuries | The Superstitious Irish Fairy Trees