Myth and Folklore Wiki

The Fairy, is a classification of magical beings from European folklore.[1]


The term "fairy" has an ancient etymology. Originating from the Proto-Indo-European "*bha-," meaning "to speak, tell, or say," it later developed into the Latin "fata," meaning "the Fates."[2] From the Latin developed the Old French terms "fae," meaning "fairy," and "faerie," which means "land of fairies, meeting of fairies; enchantment, magic, witchcraft, and sorcery."[2]

From the Old French developed the Middle English term "fairie," meaning, "the country or home of supernatural or legendary creatures; fairyland," and "something incredible or fictitious."[2] From the Middle English developed the modern term "fairy,"[2] meaning, "a mythical being of folklore and romance usually having diminutive human form and magic powers," or, "of or relating to fairies."[3]

In modern times, the terms "fairie, faerie, fae, fey, or fay," can all be used in place of "fairy," to describe fairies.

Mythology and Folklore[]

The views concerning fairies has morphed and developed over time and by region. In early, pre-Christian Europe these beings likely originated as lesser spirits or deities. As Christianity spread, these beings were demoted to either being a race that lived parallel to humanity, or to demonic entities. Post-enlightenment, belief in fairies dramatically decreased. Even so, belief in fairies still lingers in small isolated communities and in the modern New Age and Neo-pagan movements that gained popularity in the Anglophone world beginning in the 1960's.


Fairies have taken a wide variety of forms within European folklore and literature. Some fairies were beautiful and graceful. Others were hideous to look upon. Others still, a mix of traits. In modern times the term fairy is most commonly used to describe beautiful, feminine-looking fairies that tend to have the wings of a butterfly or other flying insect, while other beings traditionally thought of as types of fairies that don't match this description tend to go by more specific names.


Throughout the ages, and between traditions, the dispositions of fairies has varied just as much as their appearances have. Some fairies can be thought of as benevolent, while others evil and malevolent.[4] Views of fairies have often fluctuated over time due to the influence of Christianity in Europe, but one consistent feature is that fairies are depicted as being both mischievous and capricious. Fairies are said to love to play tricks, and their attitude can change from happy and friendly to ferocious without warning if they are somehow offended.

Fairy Courts[]

T23 3+who+stand

"3 Who Stand" by Brian Froud (2011/2012)

According to Scottish tradition fairies can be divided into two primary categories. The first of which is the "Seelie Court." the word "seelie" translates to English as "blessed." The fairies of the Seelie Court are generally considered to be benevolent and are known to help humans in need.[5] Even with this friendly disposition, fairies of the Seelie Court can be dangerous if offended.[6] The fairies of the Unseelie Court, in contrast to the fairies of the Seelie Court, are always harmful to humans. The Unseelie Court includes the likes of the Nuckelavee and the Redcap, as well as the restless souls of the dead.[6]

Fairy Mounds[]


Aerial view of Cahirvagliair Ring Fort in Coppeen, West Cork, Ireland

Also known as Fairy Hills or Fairy Forts, are the remains of stone circles, ringforts, hillforts, or other circular prehistoric dwellings in Ireland. These remains are said to be either homes for fairies and other supernatural creatures, or portals to the Otherworld.

Fairy Rings[]


"Fairy Dance" by William Holmes Sullivan (1882)

Fairy Rings are naturally occurring rings of mushrooms that are said to be locations where fairies congregate. According to English and Celtic mythology fairy rings are cause by fairies and elves dancing around in a circle at night.[7][8] If any human who stumbles upon these festivities enters the fairy ring, They are forced to dance until they are driven insane, die, or pass out from exhaustion.[7][8]


Füssli - Der Wechselbalg - 1780

"Der Wechselbalg" by Henry Fuseli (1781)

The term changeling originates from medieval literature. Stories of changelings involve human parents that are left to raise a sickly or malformed baby after their own baby had been secretly kidnapped by either a fairy or demon and replaced with either a fairy or demon baby. Other stories of changelings involve either a human-fairy or human-demon hybrid.

The term changeling was originally synonymous with the "cambion," which was the demonic product of a human and incubi or succubi. Over time, the terms cambion and changeling diverged as people's views on demons and fairies diverged. In modern fantasy and folklore a "cambion" is specifically a human-demon hybrid, usually the offspring of an incubus or succubus, while the term "changeling" is specifically a human-fairy hybrid.

Types of Fairies[]

There are many different fairy races throughout Europe, mostly occurring in Germanic and Celtic mythology and folklore.


Dwarves (plural "dwarfs" before J. R. R. Tolkien popularized "dwarves") are a humanoid race in Norse mythology. They are usually depicted shorter, stockier, hairier than humans. They often had longer lifespans. they are usually associated with vast hoards of treasure, such as Andavri. Some of them turned to stone in the light, notably Alvíss, who claimed Thor's daughter Thrudr, as his wife.


Elves (plural "elfs" before J. R. R. Tolkien popularized "elves") are spirits of Celtic mythology, Also known as Ealbhar and Ellyllon, they are often associated with magic and nature, they are sometimes depicted with pointed ears.


Gnomes are dwarf-like fairies in Renaissance mythology. They dwelt underground. Gnomes were introduced into Renaissance folklore by Parcelsus. Modern garden gnomes depict gnomes as small, bearded men with pointy hats.


The goblin is a type of diminutive humanoid from traditional World-wide folklore especially Europe. The word "goblin" is originally derived from the Greek word "Kobalos," which translates into English as "Rogue" or "Evil Spirit." The word goblin has traditionally been reserved for any ugly fairy that is either mischievous or malevolent. Because of this, the term goblin has been used to describe a wide variety of creatures found in a multitude of traditions throughout Europe.


Leprechauns are the most well-known fairies in Irish mythology. They are short humanoids, with their appearance varying on their location. They are associated with fashioning and cobbling shoes, as well as hiding their money in pots at the ends of rainbows.


Sprites are elf-like fairies in many different mythologies. They are often depicted as having wings. The word sprite is derived from the Latin "spiritus", thus closely connected with the words spirit and sprightly.


Trolls are monsters in Germanic mythology. They turn to stone or blow up on exposure to sunlight. They are similar to jǫtnar and reside in caves, mountains or dense forests. Trolls are often depicted guarding passages across waterways, such as bridges or shallow crossings.


Pixies are small, childish and often mischievous fairies originating in Celtic, specifically the Cornish myth.

Modern Depictions[]

Fairies of all sorts are frequently featured in the fantasy genre. The physical descriptions and attributes of these creatures is often adapted to suit the author. As a result, many sorts of fairies have been given similar attributes in different fantasy works that they have developed distinct characteristics, even stereotypes, such as leprechauns associated with hiding gold at the ends of rainbows.


  • Faeries (or fey/fair folk) are one of the four supernatural species of Downworld in the Shadowhunter Chronicles by Cassandra Clare. They are separated into two factions, derived from Scottish folklore, the division into the Seelie Court and the Unseelie Court.
  • Fairies and elves are also described in the Spiderwick Chronicles, as well as an ogre (Mulgarath).
  • Fairies (or fae folk) have a major role in Artemis Fowl (the book series and the movie) but they are depicted as modern creature, with technology that surpasses human [technology] in many ways.


  • Fairies are in Disney's cartoons Tinkerbell (and the other movies featuring her; also books about the Neverland Fairies) and “Peter Pan”.
  • As written above, the fairies also are in the Artemis Fowl movie (2020), also produced by Disney.
  • There is a movie based on the books of the Spiderwick Chronicles.