This post is brought to you by Addison, the 4-year-old I watch 20 hours a week. I asked her what word I should write about this week and she said, ” Christmas! No, fairies!” So fairies it is. I am writing this on my phone while waiting for her to finish her lunch. (1:30 pm)
I’m back. (4 pm) She’s napping now. Have had time to look up a definition and do a little research. So without further ado…
Definition: a mythical being of folklore and romance usually having diminutive human form and magic powers
Origin: Middle English fairie fairyland, enchantment, from Anglo-French faerie, from fee fairy, from Latin Fata, goddess of fate, from fatum fate
First Known Use: 14th century
Just from this definition, it is clear that most early folklore dealt with fairies being powerful beings that could interfere with the lives of humans. This idea has manifested in a plethora of ways. Even before “fairy” was the commonly used term, the concept had been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. In early Celtic stories, fairies were either short, wizened trolls or tall, radiant beings. Later, they were illustrated as tiny humanoid creatures driven into hiding by invading humans. Today, the typical depiction of a fairy usually had insect-like wings, but they weren’t always like that. Early folklore has fairies flying on the backs of birds or on little sticks, using magic. Magic has always been the binding theme, no matter what other elements change.
One theory of the origin of fairy stories is that these creatures were worshipped as gods and goddesses by pagan cultures. Of course, when Christianity spread across the world and quelled the pagan beliefs in many areas, this idea faded away. The church then regarded fairies as “evil beings” and worked hard to change the general attitude toward fairies to fit its agenda. Later, Celtic stories told of fairies showing themselves as the dead loved ones of those who stumbled across them. They are described as ghosts in several stories. The church also perpetuated the idea that fairies are demons on Earth, angels who were caught between Heaven and Hell when the angels revolted and God shut the gates of Heaven. Apparently they were not good enough to be let back into Heaven and not evil enough to Hell, so they were forced to stay on Earth and pay a debt to the Devil, which accounts for their habit of taking children from humans or collecting gold and other trinkets.
The storehouse of knowledge about fairies and related lore is so incredibly expansive that it would take a week to write all of it down! So here’s a beautiful painting by John Anster Fitzgerald: