A fairy ( fay, fey, fae, faerie; collectively, wee
folk, good folk, people of peace, fair folk, etc.) is a type of mythological being or legendary
creature, a form of spirit, often described as metaphysical, supernatural or preternatural.
The word "fairy" derives from the fae of medieval Western European (Old French)
folklore and romance, one famous example being Morgan le
Fay. "Fae-ery" was therefore everything that appertains to the "fae", and so the land of "faes", all the
"faes". Finally the word replaced its original and one could speak of "a faery or fairy", though the word "fey" is still used
as an adjective.
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.
Fairies are generally described as human in appearance and having magical powers. Their origins are less clear
in the folklore, being variously dead, or some form of angel, or a species
completely independent of humans or angels. Folklorists have suggested that their actual origin lies in a conquered race living in hiding, or in religious
beliefs that lost currency with the advent of Christianity. These explanations are not always mutually incompatible, and they may be traceable to multiple
Much of the folklore about fairies revolves about protection from their malice, by such means as cold iron (fairies don't like iron and will not go near it) or charms of rowan and herbs,
or avoiding offense by shunning locations known to be theirs. In particular, folklore describes how to prevent the fairies from stealing babies and
substituting changelings, and abducting older people as well. Many
folktales are told of fairies, and they appear as characters in stories from medieval tales of chivalry, to Victorian fairy tales, and up to the present day in modern literature.
and as having supernatural abilities such as the ability to fly, cast. Although in modern culture they are often depicted as young, sometimes winged,
females of small stature, they originally were depicted much differently: tall, radiant, angelic beings or short, wizened trolls being some of the commonly mentioned. Diminutive fairies of one kind or another have been
recorded for centuries, but occur alongside the human-sized beings; these have been depicted as ranging in size from very tiny up to the size of a human
child. Even with these small fairies, however, their small size may be magically assumed rather than constant.
Wings, while common in Victorian and later artwork of fairies, are very rare in the folklore; even very small fairies flew with magic, sometimes flying
on ragwort stems or the backs of birds. Nowadays, fairies are often
depicted with ordinary insect or butterfly wings.
Various animals have also been described as fairies. Sometimes this is the result of shapeshifting on part of the fairy, as in the case of the selkie (seal people); others, like the kelpie and various black dogs, appear to stay more constant in form.