Last Updated on May 31, 2021
There is an almost endless amount of supernatural beings, both in the human world and in other realms. One of the most common types of those beings are fairies.
A fairy (sometimes spelled fairie) is often thought of as being a tiny, human-like, playful winged creature out of a children’s storybook. However, the fairy world encompasses a much larger area than people are aware. The mythology surrounding them doesn’t have a single origin, but most of the earliest folklore comes from the Celtic and Germanic cultures of early Europe. While they continued to be well known through oral tradition, they gained even more popularity during the Victorian (1837 – 1901) and Edwardian (1901 – 1910) eras.
Fairies can be divided up in an almost innumerous amount of ways – by country, element, good vs evil, etc. This article will go into a brief history and description of some of the most well-known and popular, as well as some of the less-well-known from a few countries not as commonly thought of as being fairy countries.
Banshees are one of the “scarier” types of fairies, known for their piercing, sorrowful scream. They are said to appear at the site of an impending death and “keen,” and are seen as either a young, beautiful woman, a terrifying hag, or a stately matron. However, in almost every situation, they are seen with extremely long, silver hair that they are often brushing.
No, not the dessert! Brownies come from British folklore, and are one of the few fairies that do not have wings.
Usually, brownies live in the home alongside humans. While the humans are out of the home or asleep, brownies perform various household and farming tasks in exchange for a simple bowl of cream. They are known as “brownies” mainly due to their brown color, generally described as being unattractive and covered in hair.
If they are made angry (and they are said to be extremely easy to offend), brownies have a tendency to become very malicious.
The idea of the changeling has made it into horror movies for decades, but people don’t know exactly what they are and what makes them so scary. Changelings are actually fairy babies, left in the place of the human babies fairies steal. While not noticeable at first, as the changeling grows they often don’t end up as normal human size. They also display strange behaviors, like random dancing and extreme laziness.
Although many people don’t immediately recognize the word “hobgoblin,” most could actually be able to identify one. Puck, from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was written as a hobgoblin!
Originally a hearth spirit, the vast majority of hobgoblins are described as small, hairy men. They usually live in the home and come out to do chores in exchange for food while the humans they live with are asleep. They are closely related to the brownie, although generally more practical jokers, and are often said to be able to shapeshift. Hobgoblins are also easy to annoy, which has the potential to turn scary or dangerous.
A fairy that can bring either good or bad luck, specifically in Ireland, puca are shape-shifters often seen as cats, dogs, goats, hares, and horses. They can also change back but keep some animal features, like ears or a tail. Puca generally live in the hills and mountains, and will sometimes offer rides to humans with a promise that they won’t be harmed.
Yes, leprechauns are fairies! They come from Irish folklore, and are usually seen as being small (between 2 and 3 feet tall), mischievous bearded men who wear coats and hats. Leprechauns generally enjoy spending most of their time making shoes, as they are master craftsmen. While many people think they are loners, they are actually said to live in magically protected communities and villages with other leprechauns.
Their popularity is usually due to their place in popular culture, mostly as a mascot. This popularity draws from their love for beer and gold, and their desire to collect as much of both as possible. While they also have a reputation for being mean-spirited tricksters, leprechauns generally value honesty and have good, pure hearts.
Last but certainly not least are pixies, the tiny (6 inches tall) supernatural creatures that can shape-shift into human sized ones are possibly the most well-known of all fairies.
Pixies are loving, peacekeeping fairies that love gardens (one of their favorite drinks is the nectar from flowers). They work hard, live in large communal spaces, and can live to be over 100 years old. Pixies love nature of all kinds, and will fight to protect it (often attacking as a “hive” instead of individually due to their small stature).
It is important to note that there are some cultures out there that consider pixies and fairies to be two different categories.
Fairies From Other Cultures
- African Fairies – From Africa comes the Aziza. This benevolent fairy race lives in the forests and is said to help hunters with their magic, as well as teaching them how to make fire.
- Asian Fairies – Asia is home to multiple different fairy mythologies. Perhaps the most well-known are the Mogwai (a kind of superpowered prankster), but there are also the huli jung (China), kitsune (Japan), pari-pari (Indonesia), and the tien (Vietnam).
- “New World” Fairies – The New World is home to some of their own supernatural creatures as well. The Iroquis people had the small-spirited jogah, while the Mayans had the alux.
- Oceanic Fairies – Found specifically in Hawaii, the menehune are a small, mischievous group who live in the forests and valleys of many of the islands. They are said to be smart, strong, and playful, and possess magical arrows that could turn angry people into calm, loving ones.
This article barely even scratched the surface of all of the fairies there are in the world. Nearly every individual culture throughout time has their own folklore, which makes fairies some of the most pervasive and prevalent supernatural creatures in the world.