A fairy, or a creature of fey, also spelled fae, is an anthropomorphic being of magic and myth. What constitutes a fairy can change from culture to culture, and tradition to tradition. Some would include all magical folk into the definition, while others reserve the term fairy for the more ethereal and elegant of the lot. A few things carry across, however, foremost of which is the idea that a fairy has powers, and is also a being of mystery.
In today's imagination, the fairy has assumed the role of a kind of pretty genie, relegated to such work as making wishes come true and hauling off of fallen teeth. The pictures of the fey that we come across in today's media show them as benevolent, wise, and kind. They bestow gifts on Sleeping Beauty, or help Cinderella out of trouble, or act as a sidekick to a boy who won't grow up.
Interestingly enough, while popular culture of today revere the fairy as a creature of good, it wasn't always so. In the past, fairies were thought to be suspicious creatures, mischievous at the best of times, and downright evil at the worst. They were blamed for missing children, certain illnesses, and bad luck during travel. People soon found a need to devise items that would defeat the influence of the fey, and these included cold iron, rowan, and even holy water, among others.
Folk beliefs pertaining to the origins of fairies are varied. One school of thought insist that they are the spirits of the dead. Another claims that they are fallen angels - angels cast out of heaven, yet not evil enough to be thrown into hell. While these "dark angels" could roam the earth however, they were still subjects of the devil and must pay him a tithe or a "teind" - usually in the form of children or wayward travelers. Still another theory espouses that fairies are a distinct species altogether, in the manner of Big Foot or the yeti.
Yet it is not just the fairy's origin that is under debate. Even their very appearance is uncertain. Sometimes they are described as tall, willowy and enchantingly beautiful. Other times they are dazzling, winged and no bigger than a foot, called a demifey. On some occasions they may possess a magic wand, and at others, no wand at all.