Little People of Western Europe with magical powers.
Etymology: From the Old French fae or fee ("fairy"), deriving from the Latin fatum ("destiny").
Variant names: Brownie, Fary (in Nort hum-berland), Fay, Fayry, Fenoderee (Manx), Ferier (in Suffol k), Ferrish (Manx), Frairy (in East An-glia), Gentle folk, The Gentry, Good people, Gwyllion (Wales), Huldre (Norwegian), Hul-dufolk (Icelandic), Klippe (in Forfarshire), Korrigan (Breton), Leprechaun (Irish), Lutin (French), Mound folk, Nis, Nisse (Norwegian), Piskie (in Cornwall), Pixy (in Somerset), Pol die (in Cheshire), Sidhe (Irish), Sith (Gaelic), Sleagh Maith (Irish, "good people"), Spyris (Cornish), S'thich (Gaelic), The Strangers (in Lincolnshire), Tomte (Swedish), Tylwyth teg (Welsh).
Physical description: Height, 2—5 feet, or smaller. Generally good-looking but usually with some deformity that is difficult to hide. Red hair. Hairy face. Long arms. Large feet.
Behavior: Cl ever and mischievous. Eat s barl ey meal and oatmeal. Lives in megalithic struct ures. Wears clot hes, oft en red or green. Said to be vengeful, especially when cheat ed or when it s home or environment is destroyed. Has super-nat ural powers and can become invisibl e or al t er it s form at wil l. Associat ed wit h buried t reasure. Said to be fond of braiding horse's manes. Appears t o chil dren more oft en t han adul t s. St eal s human children and replaces them with their own (changelings). Carries people away to Fairyland or detains them there if they enter a Fairy hil l and can be t ricked int o t ast ing Fairy food or drink. Causes paralytic seizures. Social Fairies engage in such complex social struct ures as government, art, music, marriage, labor, funeral s, and war.
Distribution: Worldwide but especially known in Ireland, Scotland, Iceland, Isle of Man, and No rway.
Significant sightings: In 1188, a Welsh cleric named El idyr t ol d Geral d of Wal es t hat when he was t wel ve years old, he had encount ered t wo tiny men who led him through a dark tunnel and int o a fant ast ic real m of l it 11 e peopl e rul ed by a king. He ret urned t o visit several t imes until he tried stealing a golden ball. The little men pursued and took it back from him, after which he coul d no l onger find t he t unnel.
In 1757, when British cleric Edward Williams was seven years old, he and some other children playing in a field in Wales saw a group of t iny coupl es dressed in red and carrying whit e kerchiefs. One of t he l it 11 e men, who had an "ancient, swarthy, grim complexion," chased t he chil dren. The incident puzzl ed Wil l iams al l his life.
In the early twentieth century, W. Y. Evans-Went z traveled throughout Ireland, Scotland, Wal es, Cornwal l, and Brit t any, gat hering many oral traditions of Fairies from all social classes. One informant, named Neil Colton, told him about Fairies he had seen in t he mid-ninet eent h century at Lough Derg, County Donegal, Ireland. He and some other children were gathering berries when t hey heard music and saw six to eight of them dancing a few hundred feet away. A lit t le woman came running toward t hem and hit a girl on t he face wit h a green rush. The girl faint ed aft er t hey all ran home and was revived onl y wit h t he hel p of a priest.
The not orious Cot t ingl ey Fairy phot ographs, taken by Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, somehow fooled many people over the years. It
was only in 1983 that the women finally admitted to using cutouts from Princess Mary's Gift Book (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1914), by Princess Mary, Countess of Harewood, on two of the photos taken in 1917. Three other photos taken in August 1920 with a different camera were probably double exposures. However, they never denied seeing real Fairies in the beck near Cottingley, Yorkshire, and claimed the hoax was done to demonstrate their reality. The photos and related documents sold for £22,000 at an auction in July 1998.
On April 30, 1973, Mary Treadgold was traveling by bus on the Island of Mull in Scotland when she looked out the window and saw a small figure, about 18 inches high, who appeared to be digging peat with a spade. It was dressed in bright-blue pants and suspenders and a white shirt with rolled-up sleeves, and it remained completely still as the bus passed.
Unexpected mishaps during construction of a new road at Akureyri, Iceland, in 1984 were blamed on the local fairies. Helgi Hallgrimsson, director of the Akureyri Natural History Museum, has collected many eyewitness reports from the district around Eyjafjordur, where a Fairy town is said to be located.
Brian Collins, age fifteen, was vacationing on Aran Island, County Donegal, Ireland, around 1992 when he saw two men about 3 feet 6 inches tall, talking in Irish and dressed in green with brown boots. They were sitting on a bank, fishing in the ocean, but suddenly they jumped away and disappeared. Collins retrieved a pipe one had been smoking, but it later disappeared from a locked drawer.
Present status: Not a traditional cryptozoolog-ical puzzle in that these diminutive entities do not seem to belong to the purely physical realm. However, Fairies serve as a reminder that even Western cultures can have difficulty separating the real world from the paraphysical. Possible explanations:
(1) Folk memories of a race of small-statured people said to have existed in Europe in antiquity, suggested by Elizabeth Andrews and others. The survival of megalithic monuments that were apparently built by shorter people contributed to this belief.
(2) Folk memories of Celtic or other pagan gods, dimly remembered from pre-Christian times.
(3) Folk memories of an ancient cult of the dead or actual spirits of the dead. Various types might be classed as the evil dead, the recently dead, the heathen dead, and the ancient dead.
(4) Nature spirits of gardens and glens; elemental personifications of trees, plants, earth, and water.
(5) Hallucinations of some kind, perhaps by fantasy-prone individuals.
(6) Paranormal or supernatural apparitions, fallen angels, or a race of beings halfway between the material and the spiritual.
(7) A premodern manifestation of entities related to the unidentified flying object (UFO) phenomenon. Individuals who are "taken by the fairies" have been compared to those who claim abduction by UFO aliens.
Sources: Gerald of Wales, The Journey through Wales , trans. Lewis Thorpe (New York: Penguin, 1978), pp. 133-136 (i.8); Robert Kirk, The Secret Common-Wealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies  (London: D. Nutt, 1893); Thomas Keightley, The Fairy Mythology (London: H. G. Bohn, 1850); James Bowker, Goblin Tales of Lancashire (London: W. Swan Sonnenschein, 1878); Wirt Sikes, British Goblins (London: S. Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, 1880); David MacRitchie, Fians, Fairies and Picts (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1893); W. Y. Evans-Wentz, The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries (London: H. Frowde, 1911); Elizabeth Andrews, Ulster Folklore (London: Elliot Stock, 1913); Arthur Conan Doyle, "Fairies Photographed," Strand Magazine 60 (December 1920): 462-467; Arthur Conan Doyle, The Coming of the Fairies (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1922); Geoffrey Hodson, Fairies at Work and at Play (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1925); Edward L. Gardner, Fairies: The Cottingley Photographs and Their Sequel (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1945); Lewis Spence, British Fairy Origins (London: Watts,
1946); Diarmuid A. MacManus, The Middle Kingdom (London: Max Parrish, 1959); Tor Age Bringsv^rd, Phantoms and Fairies from Norwegian Folklore (Oslo: Johan Grundt Tanum Forlag, 1970), pp. 95-102; Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971); Mary Treadgold (letter), Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 48 (September 1975): 186-187; Katharine M. Briggs, A Dictionary of Fairies (London: Allen Lane, 1976); Alan Boucher, ed., Elves, Trolls and Elemental Beings: Icelandic Folktales II (Reykjavik: Iceland Review Library, 1977); Nancy Arrowsmith and George Moorse, A Field Guide to the Little People (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977); Katharine M. Briggs, The Vanishing People: A Study of Traditional Fairy Beliefs (London: Batsford, 1978); Geoffrey Crawley, "That Astonishing Affair of the Cottingley Fairies," British Journal of Photography, in 10 parts, December 24, 1982, to April 8, 1983; "Icelandic Fairies," Fortean Times, no. 43 (Spring 1985): 45-46; Ulrich Magin, "Yeats and the 'Little People,'" Strange Magazine, no. 4 (1989): 10-13, 55-58; Joe Cooper, The Case of the Cottingley Fairies (London: Robert Hale, 1990); Ulrich Magin, "The Akureyri Fairies Revisited," INFO Journal, no. 66 (June 1992): 18-19; Jerome Clark, Encyclopedia of Strange and Unexplained Physical Phenomena (Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1993), pp. 59-61, 95-101; "More Fairies Seen," Fate 46 (April 1993): 14-15; David Lazell, "Modern Fairy Tales," Fortean Times, no. 71 (October-November 1993): 39-41; Peter Narvaez, ed., The Good People: New Fairylore Essays (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1997); Janet Bord, Fairies: Real Encounters with Little People (New York: Carroll and Graf, 1997); John E. Roth, American Elves (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1997), pp. 43-50; Carole G. Silver, Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998); Bob Curran, The Truth about the Leprechaun (Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 2000); Diane Purkiss, Troublesome Things: A History of Fairies and Fairy Stories (London: Penguin, 2001).
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