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What is a Fairy?

By Wanda Albano
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

Well-known fairies include the fairy godmothers of countless fairytales, characters from Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, Mesprit from Pokemon, and Queen Mab, from English folklore.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By OceanSwimmer — On Oct 23, 2010

@dinoleash: I also have a daughter that is fascinated with fairies. She tells me that laughter and fresh flowers are the best ways to attract a fairy. Each flower has its own fairy and every tear that is shed from laughter creates a brand new fairy.

By DinoLeash — On Oct 23, 2010

I remember watching the movie “Fern Gully” with my daughter. She was fascinated with the whole fairy life. She has make-believe fairy friends.

From my daughter I have learned that the best places to find fairies are in the “tween places” such as where streams divide or forks in the road. The best time to find your fairy friends are the “tween times” like dawn or dusk. Until you are in tune with the fairy realm, you won’t see them approach. However, you may have an unexplained ripple in your water or perhaps a sudden chill.

Our fairy tale land is very fun!

By cmsmith10 — On Oct 23, 2010

Fairies can be either male or female. They are immortal and usually harmless. It is said that they possess powers of enchantment and magic. Of course, we usually think of Tinkerbell when we hear the word “fairy”.

Fairies dance in a circle, using music to lure humans inside. It is said that once the fairies trap a human, it is impossible for the human to get out unless a human chain is formed to pull her/him out.

The whole idea of fairies was quite amusing when I was younger. I always wanted to wear fairy wings for Halloween. I remember wanting so much to believe that the fairies were real!!

By momothree — On Oct 23, 2010

Are fairies girls or boys?

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