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Fae - An Exploration...

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 14, 2005 11:40 pm    Post subject: Fae - An Exploration... Reply with quote

Faerie: from the Latin term for "fate" (fata), faeries (or fairies) are a "host of supernatural beings and spirits who occupy a limbo between earth and heaven" (Guiley). This is in recognition of the skill faeries had in predicting and even controlling human destiny. Faeries could be either good or evil creatures, and at various points in history have been confused with witches and demons

Fay or fey is the archaic term for faerie meaning bewitched or enchanted. This word derives from 'Fays' meaning Fates, and thought to be a broken form of Fatae. 'Fay-erie' was first a state of enchantment or glamour, and was only later used for the fays who wielded those powers of illusion. The state of enchantment is fayerie, which became fairy and faerie.

Other terms:

Fair Folk is a welsh name, often used in litterature and in scandinavian myths.

Good Neighbours is from Scotland. It had its origin in a desire to give no unnecessary offense. The `folk' might be listening, and were pleased when people spoke well of them, and angry when spoken of slightingly. The same feeling made the Irish Celt call them `honest folk' (Daoine Coire) or `good people' (Daoine Matha).

The Green Children was used in medieval litterature and versions of it is often used in modern Fantasy litterature.This theme has many variations like Greenies, Greencoaties and others.

The Old People refers as Faerie lived on earthlong before Mankind.

The Silent People (the people of peace, the still folk, or silently-moving people) comes from the Irish and Scottish Gaelic, the sith people. The name sith refers to `peace' or silence of Airy motion, as contrasted with the stir and noise accompanying the movements and actions of men. The Fairies come and go with noiseless steps, and their thefts or abductions are done silently and unawares to men.

Elf (ves) means also faerie and derived from the word alfarfrom the Nordic and Teutonic languages which is associated with mountains and water. This clearly illustrates the close relationship between faeries and the earth.

More generally, Faerie applies to four kind of entities :

* Enchanters and enchantresses with supernatural powers.
* Certain monsters and demons having a connection with fairies and/or having some of the characteristics of fairies. See the origin of Fairies
* Nature fairies: Faeries were believed to be some of the spirits which populate all places and objects on Earth. The nature fairies are mermaids, water-spirits, tree-spirits and such.·
* Faerie people (mainly the subject of this section) or the true Fairy, or Elfin race. The Fairies, according to the Scoto-Celtic belief, are a race of beings, the counterparts of mankind in person, occupations, and pleasures, but unsubstantial and unreal, ordinarily invisible, noiseless in their motions, and having their dwellings underground, in hills and green mounds of rock or earth. They are addicted to visiting the haunts of men, sometimes to give assistance, but more frequently to take away the benefit of their goods and labours, and sometimes even their persons. They may not be present in any company, though mortals do not see them. Their interference is never productive of good in the end, and may prove destructive. Men cannot therefore be sufficiently on their guard against them.

Trooping and solitary faeries

In order to classify the faerie characters in the stories, the race is divided up into two groups: the peasantry and the aristocracy; trooping and solitary. It is a distinction that hold good throughout the British Isles, and is indeed valid wherever fairy beliefs are held. The peasantry is made up of the solitary faeries that are believed to have descended from spirits who made up all of nature. Although they had some of the same powers as their more prestigious relatives, i.e. the ability to become invisible and shape-change, they were known to be more wild and capricious. Fortunately, true encounters with mortals were relatively rare, instead their presence were most often announced by evidence of the creatures’ activity. It was believed the bending of the grass, the rustling sounds of tree branches, and the glittering patterns of frost on windows could be attributed to their nearness.

The Faerie aristocracy was very different from their isolated cousins. They were known as trooping faeries because they travelled in long processions. These faeries are believed to be descendents of ancient, vanquished gods. They dwell in underground kingdoms or across the deepest seas.The trooping faycan be large or small, friendly or sinister. They tend to wear green jackets, while the Solitary Faery wear red jackets. They can range from the Heroic Faery to the dangerous and malevolent Sluagh.

In many cultures like those in Scandinavia and Scotland, they subdivided the aristocracy into good and evil. However, there is no distinction between the good and evil faeries in Wales and Ireland. They were called the Tylwyth Teg (Fair Family) and the Daine Side (Dwellers of the Faerie Mounds) respectively. The Irish have the most complete accounts of the trooping faeries hidden within their many songs and folktales.

Faeries across history and cultures

The antiquity of the belief is shown by its being found among all branches of the Celtic and Teutonic families, and in countries which haven’t had, within historical times, any communication with each other. If it be no entirely of Celtic origin, there can be no doubt that among the Celtic races it acquired an importance and influence accorded to it nowhere else. Of all the beings, with which fear or fancy peopled the supernatural, the Fairies were the most intimately associated with men's daily life.

Throughout most of these former celtic nations : Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany and Germany, the Fairies have become things of the past. A common belief is that they existed once, though they are not now seen. There are others to whom the elves have still a real existence, and who are careful to take precautions against them. It would be difficult to find a person who knows the whole Fairy creed, but the tales of one district are never contradictory of those of another and are still present even if they sometimes remain as a confused jumbling of all superstitions.

The dismiss of Fairies

From the XVIII century onwards, the fairies have been said to have departured or to be in decline. People do not see them any more and some argue that the Faeries will eventually disappear as men have stopped believing in them. Other put forward pollution, urbanization, science as the main causes for their disparition. Yet, however often they may be reported as gone, the fairies still linger. In Ireland the fairy beliefs are still part of the normal texture of life; in the Highlands, Islands or Brittany the traditions continue.

Somewhere at the beginning of the 19th century, Hugh Miller recorded what was supposed to be the final departure of the fairies from Scotland at Burn of Eathie.

On a Sabbath morning... the inmates of this little hamlet had all gone to church, all except a herd-boy, and a little girl, his sister, who were lounging beside one of the cottages; when, just as the shadow of the garden-dial had fallen on the line of noon, they saw a long cavalcade ascending out of the ravine through the wooded hollow. It winded among the knolls and bushes; and, turning round the northern gable of the cottage beside which the sole spectators of the scene were stationed, began to ascend the eminence toward the south. The horses were shaggy, diminutive things, speckled dun and grey; the riders, stunted, misgrown, ugly creatures, attired in antique jerkins of plaid, long grey cloaks, and little red caps, from under which their wild uncombed locks shot out over their cheeks and foreheads. The boy and his sister stood gazing in utter dismay and astonishment, as rider after rider, each one more uncouth and dwarfish than the one that had preceded it, passed the cottage, and disappeared among the brushwood which at that period covered the hill, until at length the entire rout, except the last rider, who lingered a few yards behind the others, had gone by. 'What are ye, little mannie? and where are ye going?' inquired the boy, his curiosity getting the better of his fears and his prudence. 'Not of the race of Adam,' said the creature, turning for a moment in his saddle: 'the People of Peace shall never more be seen in Scotland.'

Hugh Miller, The Old Red Sandstone

Description of Fairies

Faeries are often portrayed in Western children’s stories as tiny, winged, and good hearted. However, this description varies widely from worldwide folk traditions in which beliefs concerning hidden races sharing the earth with us have resided for most of human history.

Within different regions different descriptions of faeries grew, all were more or less human in form although sometimes taller or shorter, but never bearing wings. Much of their behaviour was much like humans as well; they had governments, societies, marriages, children, and war. They were often mortal and therefore, could be killed. However, unlike humanity, they had supernatural powers, which made them, at best, unpredictable and at worst, dangerous. Few people sought out the company of faeries and most went out of the way to avoid it.

The size of faeries

The difference in size ascribed to the race has strangely greatly varied according to time and local customs. At one time the elves are small enough to creep through keyholes, and a single potato is as much as one of them can carry; at another they resemble mankind, with whom they form alliances, and to whom they hire themselves as servants; while some are even said to be above the size of mortals, giants, in whose lap mortal women are mere infants. The same peculiarity exists in Teutonic belief. At times the elf is a dwarfish being that enters through key-holes and window-slits; at other times a great tall man. In Scandinavia, the Troll may appear in one tale as a Giant greater than two men and in another as a small dwarf..

Organization of faeries

There are many different faerie organizations. Each has its own hierarchy and local legends.


Fairies can also be divided into the Seelie court and the Unseelie court.

The Seelie court, or the blessed court, a group of rather beneficial spirits, is friendly towards humans. The Selie Court are some of the more aristrocratic faeries, and are known as tropping, or heroic faeries. Scottish folklore presents them as a huge host of light and benevolence riding on the night air.

The Unseelie Court or Unblessed Court contains the most malicious, malevolent and evil of the faeries, and a number of monsters of horrible appearance and fearsome abilities as well. They comprise the Slaugh, or The Host, the band of the unsanctified dead who fly above the earth, stealing mortals and take great pleasure in harming humans. Some Scottish legends say they were all once members of the Seelie Court who fell from grace. The Court travels on the night winds from where their unnerving cackles and howls can be heard. They have no method of reproduction, so they enslave mortals whom they think would never be missed and carry them along to become one of them.

The Seelie Court and its counterpart, the Unseelie Court are often at war,and humans may get caught in the middle of such battles. They acquired the title "Court" because they also act as arbiters and judges in faery disputes.


The great Tuatha de Danann of Ireland flead to Tir Nan Og after their defeat by the Milesians, however those who remained in Ireland became the Daoine Sidhe. Side (Shee) is gaelic for 'people of the hills'. Orriginally it referred to the mounds in which faeries lived, though it has now come to refer to the inhabitants as well. Their king is Finvarra, who like all of his clan is a skilled warrior. He is also fond of chess playing and women. Despite the fact that his wife, Donagh, is one of the most beautiful women above or below the ground, he is known to abduct brides-to-be. Like the Seelie Court, the Daoine Sidhe, enjoy riding and are famous for their faerie steeds, which can carry a rider faster than the wind over land or water.

Another group of faeries in Ireland inhabit the Lough Lean. their ruler is O'Donoghue who rides forth from the lake every May Day on a war steed to ride into the surrounding mist.


Whales has perhaps more clans of faeries than any other area. In Glastonburry Tor, famous from Arturian legends, Gwyn ap Nudd rules over the Plant Annwn (roughly- family of hades). Long ago, on every New Year's Day, a door would appear in the side of a great rock next to a certain lake. Those who entered found that it lead to a passage that ended on the island in the middle of the lake. This island was a beatiful garden kept by the Gwrgedd Annwn, who would serve wonderful food to the travelers and treat them as honored guests. They warned the fortunate mortals that the doorway was a secret and that nothing could be taken from the garden. One mortal took a single flower from the garden and as soon as he touched the soil of earth, all of the other other travelers were expelled and the doorway was closed, never to reopen again.


Brittany has several classes of Faeries, the most popular being the Korrigans who have been counted to be more than 10 000 in the past.

Faeries’ style of life

The Fairies are counterparts of mankind. There are children and old people among them; they practice all kinds of trades and handicrafts; they possess cattle, dogs, arms; they require food, clothing, sleep; they are liable to disease, and can be killed. People entering their brughs, have found the inmates engaged in similar occupations to mankind, the women spinning, weaving, grinding meal, baking, cooking, churning, etc., and the men sleeping, dancing, and making merry, or sitting round a fire in the middle of the floor. Some Fairy families or communities are poorer than others, and borrow meal and other articles of domestic use from each other and from their neighbours of mankind.

The fairies have a great reputation for various skills. They are seen and heard working on their own account, they teach skills to mortals and they do work for them. Of the crafts in which fairies are distinguished, the most curious and contradictory is smithy work, when we consider the fairies' fear of cold iron. Gnomes and dwarves are reputed metal-workers, and many famous swords and breastplates were wrought by them.

Lepracauns were reputed to be highly skilled at shoemaking, but since there is no record that they made shoes for other than fairy feet, there is no certitude.

Goblins labouring in the mines were proverbial in the 17th century for producing no results by their deedy labours. Boat-building, on the other hand, was a work on which they nightly laboured and which they could transfer to human protégés. The men have smithies, in which they make the Fairy arrows and other weapons.

Fairy food consists principally of things intended for human food, of which the elves take the substance, fruit, or benefit, leaving the semblance or appearance to men themselves. In his manner they take cows, sheep, goats, meal, sowens, the produce of the land, … Cattle falling over rocks are particularly liable to being taken by them, and milk spilt in coming from the dairy is theirs by right. They have, of food peculiar to themselves and not acquired from men, the root of silver weed (brisgein), the stalks of heather (cuiseagan an fhraoich), the milk of the red deer hinds and of goats, weeds gathered in the fields, and barleymeal. The brisgein is a root plentifully turned up by the plough in spring, and ranked in olden times as the `seventh bread'. Its inferior quality and its being found underground, are probably the cause of its being assigned to the Fairies.

Faerie Rings and Dances

According to folklore, fairy rings are magical circles in which witches and faeries meet to sing and dance at night. Fairies dance in circles and when a human is lured inside he can’t escape unless he is pulled out of the circle by a human chain. Inside time is different and what seems like a couple minutes could actually be several days.

Fairy rings is also the name for the circles of inedible mushrooms that grow in grassy areas in North America, Europe, and Britain. Also called hag tracks in Britain, they are believed to be created by witches' dancing feet.

- Merticus
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