Human like in appearance but smaller and having wings, according to many folklore beliefs they have long life spans and are believed to possess magical powers being able to fly and cast spells. They are also often said to be to blame when mischievous activities occur.
A fairy (also faery, faerie, fay, fae; euphemistically wee folk, good folk, people of peace, fair folk, etc.) is a type of mythical being or legendary creature, a form of spirit, often described as metaphysical, supernatural or preternatural.
Fairies resemble various beings of other mythologies, though even folklore that uses the term fairy offers many definitions. Sometimes the term describes any magical creature, including goblins or gnomes: at other times, the term only describes a specific type of more ethereal creature
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Fairies from pagan origins and can be found among all branches of the Celtic families. Once also known as pagan gods and goddesses, the tradition of holding in reverence these small beings spread across France, Germany, and the British Isles. In Wales (UK) people originally worked within a matriarchal society, worshipping ‘Mother Goddess’, calling fairies ‘The Mothers’. Therefore Fairyland was always associated with the ‘Land of Women’ and so fairies are often associated with the females of mankind.
Even today many Irish still say fairies live in the pagan sidh (burial mounds and barrow graves), several hundred of which can still be seen across the Irish countryside. Fairies are thought to have a connection to the deadlands as well as to heaven. It was and to some still believed that they can travel between heaven & earth and the underworld. Fairies are connected with Halloween (Samhain) when it is believed they come out of their ‘fairy’. Another explanation is that they exist in an alternative dimension to humans which is why they do not fully interactive with our world.
It is thought they lived in hills or woods usually in the place referred to as ‘Tir na nog’ - the Land of Eternal Youth. Human mortals cannot always see fairies because they exist between worlds, but occasionally a human may get a glimpse of them. This is believed my some to be around twilight when the veil between worlds is thinnest, the change from day to night. Humans need to always take care as entering ‘Tir na nog’ is dangerous as few mortals are said to escape alive.
It was also believed that if you carried a four leaf clover then it would give you the gift to see fairies. As well as Halloween (Samhain) another time that you could possible see them was Christmas day night if there was a full moon. Scottish legend tells of how the Hawthorn was believed to be a place where Fairies met at a special trysting-place
Travelers who returned, which were rare described it as like being in a dreamlike state in which most of the time they are in a weird fog. Some stories of travelers have mentioned they had returned sometimes decades later only to find friends and family long gone whilst they themselves have not aged from the day they had entered into the grove. ‘Will o' Wisps’ are illuminated fairies that looked like, pretty lights, which lead unwary travelers into other strange lands and away from the paths in the woods. It was later explained by none believers that the lights were just marsh gas igniting, giving the illusion of dancing lights and people just lost their lives in the boggy marsh land when they wandered of the well trodden paths.
Fairies are believed to have descended from the race of Elves. Elves are described as an ancient race of magical, slim creatures with pointed ears and now thought to be extinct, they lacked the ability to fly like fairies. Elves were associated with the earth and the natural world the fairies took over their roles and traditions. Fairies are seen as air, water, fire and tree spirits. This is also the four points that make up a pagan pentagram (five pointed star) which represents ‘air, water, fire and earth’, the fifth point is that of spirit and the fairies represent this in physical form.
Throughout the traditional celtic nations of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany and Germany, fairies are becoming something of the past. This said fairies are still commonly believed to exist by many people today. From the eighteenth century and onwards they have been reported less and less. Once firmly embedded in the psyche of man and nature fairies may appear to be in decline. So rare are reported sightings or activity that some people believe that the fairies will eventually disappear as men stop believing in them.
As evidence goes there are various legends and folktales here are just two. The famous "Fairies of Cottingley Glen" refers to a series of aledged photographic evidence taken by Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright. The two young cousins were living in Cottingley, near Bradford, England when the photographs were taken. The first two photos were taken in 1917. They were publicised in 1920 when "The Strand" published a piece by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle showing the first two photographs and describing them. Doyle himself dismissed the idea that the photographs could have been faked. It is now considered that he thought the girls too young and too inexperienced to have been able to create such a hoax. There has been much debate regarding the authenticity of the photographs.
Even today the suburban area of Cottingley is a famous pilgrimage spot for many. This may be due to a film made in 1997 under the title ‘Photographing Fairies’. Locals are always asked where is the Fairy Glen, the actual site by a small river is off limits, due to the danger of erosion.
Another strange piece of evidence regarding fairies is connected with Dunvegan Castle, the ancestral home of the MacLeods clan, on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. It relates to what is referred to as the "Fairy Flag of Dunvegan" which many have claimed holds supernatural properties. There are many stories that support the history of the flag. One of the most repeated is that who ever had the flag, could call for help three time by waving it in distress, the Fairy folk would then come to the persons aid. The legend says it was the fairies themselves who placed the first request when they introduced the Flag because they wrapped the infant MacLeod in it when he was near to death. The infant recovered.
It is said that the only other time it has been waved it rallied MacLeod's men to victory in war in Waternish in 1520. Therre is not much left of the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan. Many small pieces were cut from it about the size of postage stamps this was when MacLeod men went to fight in WWII, many took bits of the flag for magical protection as a sort of talisman or good luck charm. It is said by some that those that did this returned from the war alive.
The Flag still exists and resides on the Castle wall, preserved under glass, at Dunvegan. It is silk and the color is yellow which could be due to ageing. The Flag has one wave left although it is doubtful if the fabric will hold together and would probably fall apart. In the meantime, it remains for all to see, an interesting and awe-inspiring reminder of a promise given to the great chiefs of MacLeod by the mysterious wee folk hundreds of years ago.