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The majority of cultures around the world have stories about fantastical beings. Fairies have appeared in many forms throughout literature. Aside from fairy stories, they also feature in classic works such as the Breton Lay, Sir Orfeo and Shakespeare’s plays.
The word fairy roughly translates from the Latin as ‘to enchant – a state/condition of enchantment’. This vague description makes it easy to understand why it is hard to pinpoint exactly what a fairy is and explains why a fairy can be so different in one story to the next.
How do I recognise them?
In the modern world, i.e. Hollywood, they are mostly depicted as small, delicate winged creatures, but throughout history they have taken many shapes. In many stories they take the form of a beautiful man or woman with the intent of seducing or stealing away someone who takes their interest.
Where will I find them?
They are often described as dwelling beneath the earth in fairy mounds/forts, or burrows. Digging up these mounds is said to be especially dangerous. Some fairies are said to live in human homes and some cultures provide offerings to such beings, such as Duendes. Selkies, kelpies and other dangerous fairies live in bodies of water.
Processions of fairies supposedly pass through ancient forests on certain days of the year, commonly Midsummer’s Eve or other turning days. Many stories imply that fairies moods change with the season. In the summer they are more likely to be playful and kind, but as the year draws to a close they become hungry and impatient.
You can also find them partying in fairy circles. In many stories humans observe fairy revelry in this way. However, it is said that if the fairies find you watching then they will compel you to join them and you will never be seen again. Sleeping inside a fairy circle is also bad news if you have dinner plans.
Friday is said to be a day of particular danger.
How do I get their attention?
Sleeping on a fairy mound, or in ancient woodland. Crossing a fairy circle in moonlight, especially during Midsummer. Nursing mothers and babies are said to be very vulnerable, as are beautiful men and women passing through woodland. Virgins should also take care passing through ancient forests.
Cutting down Thorn trees is said to earn their wrath.
Making them offerings is said to appease them and earn their loyalty, as in the case of Saci Perere.
How do I escape?
You can protect yourself by avoiding areas inhabited by fairies.
Iron can protect against fairies. Bells and whistling were also said to guard one against abduction. Certain herbs and plants are said to help. More information can be found here.
Appeasing the fairies through gifts is traditionally protective.
One apparent constant is the general capriciousness of fairies: they can be kind or cruel as the mood takes them. Their malice toward humans is often explained through their origin story; beings who once roamed free, charged with protecting nature, but who were forced into hiding by the invasion of humanity and now must endure the gradual eradication of their sacred spaces. In many stories the motives of fairies are not clear. Commonly they are involved in kidnapping, child switching, practical jokes or romance.
Commonly in the modern world, i.e. Hollywood, they are mostly depicted as small, delicate winged creatures, but throughout folklore they have taken many shapes.
Much folklore warns against spending time with fairies due to differences in the way time works in their world. It seems as though you spent a few hours in their company, while many years may have passed in the real world. There are numerous stories of men and women returning home after an evening with the fairies to find it is now many hundreds of years later and they don’t recognise anyone.
Folktexts (scroll down to F, obviously)
Rambles (majority under Celtic).
Goodreads (quotes about).