Faeries, the Fair Folk, the Wee Ones, the Fae, there are literally thousands of ways to name these magical beings. There are just as many, if not more, species of faerie beings. Today they are most often thought of in terms of sweet flower faeries and pixies (like Tinkerbell). This is one side, and type of faerie. There are faeries of both dark and light. That is what I want to discuss in today’s post! I want to look at how faeries can be both positive and negative forces.
Faeries are most often said to inhabit the liminal space, and the Otherworld. Within Faery (the place) there are many species that are present, and powerful. There are two courts, to use the Scottish names, Seelie and Unseelie. The Seelie court are light faeries who are often said to have either no interest in humans, or who do not have ill will. Seelie court faeries can also actively search to help humans! The Unseelie court are the dark faeries, and they actively seek to harm humans! In Celtic countries for many centuries faeries were actively believed in, and people sought to appease dark faeries, and to honor light faeries. It was during the Victorian age that we saw the transition between believing in all forms of faerie folk, and showing them respect, to seeing faeries as just tiny magical flower faeries (Tinkerbell-like ones).
Tinkerbell is always the go to reference for these Disney-image faeries. However, she has a lot more spunk and fire within her than the traditional Victorian image of faeries. At the time of the surge in popularity of faerie artwork there were many Victorians who still actively believed in faeries. In fact, belief in faeries was as common as belief in ghosts up through the Edwardian period in Celtic countries, Ireland in particular!
This went hand in hand with the spiritualism movement that was hugely popular beginning in the Victorian period (and this movement was also incredibly popular here in America). Most scholars and intellectuals in this time, who believed in both spiritualism and faeries saw the fae folk in the imagery of tiny beautiful flower faeries (like the Cottingley hoax). Faerie creatures are much more diverse and powerful than they are often credited with being.
This complexity lends to the knowledge that they are both dark and light, as with any other creatures. Some great studies about the belief in faeries was performed by Katharine Briggs, who was an expert on faerie faiths in the 20th century. Before her the Irish poet Yeats studied faerie faith in Celtic countries, as did Walter Evans-Wentz! Some more modern intellectuals and scholars also study the faerie faith (historically), and some modern witches practice faerie based witchcraft.
It is very interesting to study faerie creatures, and the belief in them historically. Reading both modern accounts and classical accounts of interactions with the fae folk can possibly make believers out of skeptics! I hope that I have inspired you to learn a bit more about the complexity of faerie creatures. I will give a list of books below to help those who are interested to learn more about several different species of faeries!
- Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by Walter Evans-Wentz
- The Celtic Twilight: Faerie and Folklore by W.B. Yeats
- An Encyclopedia of Fairies by Katharine Briggs
- Fairies: A Dangerous History by Richard Sugg
- The Fairy Bible by Teresa Moorey
- Fairies: The Myths, Legends, and Lore by Skye Alexander
- The Faerie Handbook by the Editors of Faerie Magazine
- Fairies by Morgan Daimler