Like many American children, I got my ideas about fairies from Walt Disney. We have Tinkerbell playing with Peter Pan, Cinderella’s fairy godmother, Flora, Fauna, and the bumbling Merryweather in Sleeping Beauty, the Blue Fairy granting Pinocchio’s wish to be a real boy. But the history of fairies paints a different picture.
Fairies seem to be particularly part of the mythology of the British Isles. They were seen in many different ways, from small people, to invisible ones, to the souls of the dead. It is said fairies are divided into the Seelie Court, the more beneficently inclined (but still dangerous) fairies, and the Unseelie Court, the malicious fairies. While the fairies from the Seelie court enjoyed playing pranks on humans they were usually harmless affairs, compared to the Unseelie court that enjoyed bringing harm to humans as entertainment. It was never a good idea to get a fairy mad at you. Much of the folklore about fairies revolves around protection from their malice, by such means as cold iron or charms of rowan and herbs, or avoiding offense by shunning locations known to be theirs. They were accused of such things as taking a human baby and leaving one of their own in its place (changelings), causing sudden death from unknown causes, or enchanting young people to dance without stopping.
The Tuatha Dé Danann (pronounced too-AH-ha day dah-NAH) are a race of supernaturally-gifted people in Irish mythology. They are thought to represent the main deities of pre-Christian Gaelic Ireland. The Tuatha Dé Danann were spoken of as having come from islands in the north of the world or, in other sources, from the sky. After being defeated in a series of battles with other otherworldly beings, and then by the ancestors of the current Irish people, they were said to have withdrawn to the sidhe (pronounced like the English word she) (fairy mounds).
If you have read any of the Jim Butcher urban fantasy series about Harry Dresden, you know fairies in those stories are anything but benign or helpful.
So enjoy International Fairy Day, but be careful not to mock the fairies!
Quotes about fairies
Fairies, black, grey, green, and white,
You moonshine revellers, and shades of night,
You orphan heirs of fixed destiny,
Attend your office and your quality.
William Shakespeare (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
This is a work of fiction. All the characters in it, human and otherwise, are imaginary, excepting only certain of the fairy folk, whom it might be unwise to offend by casting doubts on their existence. Or lack thereof.–Neil Gaiman (The Books of Magic)
Don’t mess with the fairies.–David Mitchell (The Bone Clocks)
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
–W. B. Yeats
It is frightfully difficult to know much about the fairies, and almost the only thing for certain is that there are fairies wherever there are children.–J. M. Barrie (Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens)
Of course you don’t believe in fairies. You’re fifteen. You think I believed in fairies at fifteen? Took me until I was at least a hundred and forty. Hundred and fifty, maybe. Anyway, he wasn’t a fairy. He was a librarian. All right?–Neil Gaiman (The Sandman, Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections)
I think that people who can’t believe in fairies aren’t worth knowing.–Tori Amos
The fairies went from the world, dear,
Because men’s hearts grew cold:
And only the eyes of children see
What is hidden from the old…
Hand in hand, with fairy grace,
Will we sing, and bless this place.
–William Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
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