Sunday, November 25, 2007

What is a fairy and where did they come from?

I grew up with fairy tails and the image of a benevolent tooth fairy in my head. Fairies were creature of magic and wonder, and the protector of innocent children. As I grew older I found some wonderful books under the Fantasy genre full of fairies. Not all the fairies were good, and not all were bad. My idea of what a fairy was changed from a simplistic tiny beautiful magical woman or girl with wings, to a much more complex creature, so long lived that they don’t think like us, that we are a threat to them, taking away and destroying the nature and magic they need. That good and bad was a much more complex issue with the fey. What may be good in their eyes could be very bad for us.

Fairies can be found in millions of books, short stories, movies, plays, songs, poetry, pictures, all art mediums, and of course in legends. Fairies have a huge modern fan base, be it people who believe the Fey exist, to others who just enjoy the images and stories about fairies and their magic. We cannot help but be drawn to these mystical magical creatures. Every culture through out history has stories of wee folk both as being helpful, or the as a threat. Fairies are also known as fey, fae, faerie, wee folk, good folk, and people of peace.

What is a fairy? Most fairies are based on the fae of medieval Western European folklore and romance. A fairy is thought to be a metaphysical spirit or supernatural being. In folklore the origins of the fae is not clear, it depends on the story or legend. They have been thought to be of the dead, or some form of angel, or a species completely independent of humans or angels. Folklorists have suggested that their actual origin lies in a conquered race living in hiding, or in religious beliefs that lost currency with the advent of Christianity.

Fairies are generally portrayed as human in appearance and very attuned or connected to nature. And are seen as having mystical, magical powers and supernatural abilities such as the ability to fly, cast spells and to influence or foresee the future. Modern fairies are often depicted as young, sometimes winged, females of small stature. Originally they were depicted much differently. Fairies were tall, radiant, angelic beings or short, wizened trolls being some of the commonly mentioned. Diminutive fairies of one kind or another have been recorded for centuries, but occur alongside the human-sized beings; these have been depicted as ranging in size from very tiny up to the size of a human child. Even with these small fairies, however, their small size may be magically assumed rather than constant. Wings, while common in Victorian artwork of fairies, are very rare in the folklore; even very small fairies flew with magic, sometimes flying on ragwort stems or the backs of birds

Well many people believe in the existence of fairies most do not follow the old ways. They are not worried about harm being done to them or their families by the fae. In legend for the most part you did not wish to come to the attention of fairies. When people got involved with the fae the end usually did not come out so good for them. Today we think of tinker bell and the tooth fairy, small, beautiful and beneficial. That fairies are good and only wish to help. That is not how history or legends show them.

Much of the folklore about fairies revolves about protection from their malice, by such means as cold iron (fairies don't like iron and will not go near it) or charms of rowan and herbs, or avoiding offence by shunning locations known to be theirs. In particular, folklore describes how to prevent the fairies from stealing babies and substituting changelings, and abducting older people as well. Not quite the charming image we have of them today.

Many folktales are told of fairies, and they appear as characters in stories from medieval tales of chivalry, to Victorian fairy tales, and up to the present day in modern literature. People enjoy fairy tales, even as adults. There are quite a few books with fairies as characters that are not classified as fairy tales or children’s. They are marketed to the older crowd. It only makes sense; we grew up with fairy tails, why should we give them up when we grow up.