The Fey or Fae (French), faerie, fairy conjure specific and vivid images in our minds. Whether they are diminutive people driven further and further into hiding by humanity, or immortals living in ancient borrows and cairns, they have elicited our imagination and been the source of generations of speculation. As with most myths, a seed of truth usually lies within. In our ancestors desire to explain the unexplainable around them and with immensely creative imaginations, such creatures were born… or are they real and did our forefathers merely observe what was truly there?
These Siths or Fairies they call Sleagh Maith or the Good People…are said to be of middle nature between Man and Angel, as were Daemons thought to be of old; of intelligent fluidous Spirits, and light changeable bodies (lyke those called Astral) somewhat of the nature of a condensed cloud, and best seen in twilight. These bodies be so pliable through the sublety of Spirits that agitate them, that they can make them appear or disappear at pleasure. The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies, Reverend Robert Kirk, minister of the Parish of Aberfoyle, Stirling, Scotland, 1691
The origin of the name Fey, Faerie, etc. is convoluted at best, derived from Middle English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and German with very diverse meanings attached, including “fated to die.” “Visionary,” “Spirit.” “destiny.”
Their origins are also murky; generally described as human in appearance and having magical powers, they were considered forms of demons or the dead. Other folk beliefs include them as demoted angels, humans who became hidden people, babies laughs, pagan deities. A good deal of folklore revolves around protecting oneself from their malice by using cold iron (poison to faeries) charms made from rowan and herbs or even pieces of bread.
Legend has it that fairies are prone to kidnapping humans, usually babies or young children, leaving changelings in their place. Common themes of “Faeire Tales” are the use of magic to disguise appearance, tricking humans to do things unaware, controlling the forces of nature, even drowning individuals who disturb their habitat. The thorn tree was reputed as faerie territory and death to anyone who chopped it down. One such tree in Scotland remained standing for seventy years despite it’s blocking a road from being widened.
While there were claims by noted literary figures of actually seeing and or believing in faeries such as William Blake, C.S. Lewis, and most famously, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the accounts were generally received with skepticism, until actual photographs were revealed.
The Cottingley Fairies appeared in five photographs taken by two young cousins in 1917. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a spiritualist and photo enthusiast claimed them to be evidence of psychic phenomenon. Interest in the photographs waned after 1921. In the early 1980s the two cousins admitted that four of the five photographs were faked with cardboard cut-outs but that the fifth was genuine.
Disney, more than any other institution, has given Faeries their modern charm, stripping them of their origins and creating fanciful creatures that appeal to their target audience of young girls.
Just like so many other mythical creatures, the truth about faeries and their meaning is hidden in our past and what we are left with are our own beliefs and passions to guide us.