Introduction to the Fairy World
Who doesn’t know who Tinker Bell is? If you’re a Disney fan (raises hand), you know Tinkerbell is the fairy of Neverland from the play and movie Peter Pan. She’s tiny, has teentsy wings, and sprinkles magical fairy dust so children could fly. She mended things like pots and pans, and the sound of her tinkling bells was her language. The animated version of Tinker Bell was so loved, Disney made her an unofficial mascot for the company. Who doesn’t know the words to “When You Wish Upon a Star?”
Most people in Western cultures are also familiar with the Tooth Fairy. Parents have fostered the fantasy. When young children lose one of their teeth, they should place it under their pillow or on a nightstand, and the Tooth Fairy will leave payment for the tooth and take it. Thinking back to my childhood and the childhood of my children, I cringe at the thought of fallen body parts under the pillow.
Another familiar fairy is the Fairy Godmother from the story of Cinderella. In the Disney version, Cinderella desperately wants to go to the ball to see the prince but has no dress to wear or a way to get there. Her Fairy Godmother comes to her rescue, giving her the most fabulous dress, hair, and glass slippers, giving her the appearance of a princess. Fairy Godmother transforms a pumpkin and rats into an enchanting carriage pulled by horses that transports Cinderella to the ball just in time to have one dance before the clock strikes midnight, and the spell is broken.
Fairies in Folklore
Historically, these mythical, supernatural creatures exist in the folklore of many European cultures. The term fairy has often referred to small beings with human appearance and magical powers who were prone to mischievous behavior. They didn’t have wings. Sometimes they included gnomes and goblins. Sometimes they were evil and sought to inflict harm on humans and other creatures of the world.
There is some crossover between the Aos Si of Irish folklore and the Seelie/Unseelie Courts of Scottish folklore. The Sluagh is one such fairy, which is mentioned in both Irish and Scottish folklore. I concentrate on the Scottish Seelie Court and Unseelie Court Fae in Book One of The Bearsden Witch Series.
In Scottish folklore, Seelie Court is a more benevolent but mischievous type of fairy. The word “seelie” comes from Anglo-Saxon and means “happy” or “blessed.” The evolution of the word developed into “innocent” or “simple,” ending with the word “silly.” In the Scots language, the language of Lowland Scotland, “seelie” or “seely” meant “happy.” The Seelie Court would seek out the help of humans and would warn them if they had offended them by accident.
In some literature, these good fairies helped by providing bread to the poor and old and gifts to those they liked or had given them gifts. However, they weren’t completely benign. In the Ballad of Mary O’Craignethan, she is abducted by a fairy man, and her father curses the Seelie Court. He manages to rescue Mary but dies soon after because no one ever curses the Seelie and lives. In other words, be nice or expect them to come back and bite you in the ass.
Since the Seelie Court fairies represent the happy or good, it would make sense that the Unseelie would represent the opposite, unhappy or evil. The evil Seelie Court needed no reason to assault its victims. They were said to appear at night and assault travelers by grabbing them and carrying them off into the air.
The Sluagh in Scottish folklore is one type of Unseelie Court fairy. Called the Sluagh Sidhe, this evil fairy host was thought to be the spirits of the unforgiven dead (from the burial mounds) and flew at night, looking for humans to grab, possibly to seek revenge. Accounts written in stories described it as having wings and shadows like a collection of crows and ravens flying in tandem and had the name Host of the Unforgiven Dead. Far from the fairy image of Tinker Bell and the Tooth Fairy if you ask me!
The Aos Si are the fairies of Irish folklore. The older form of the name was aes sidhe and was spelled sith by the Scots. Both translated to fairies or elves. Folklore says they descended from fallen angels or an ancient race called the Tuatha De Danann. According to the lore, they live underground in fairy forts, across the western sea, or in a parallel world where they are invisible to us. In Irish, Aos Si translates to “people of the mounds.” “Sidhe” is Irish for hills or burial mounds. The modern Irish word is “si.” Many of the hills turning out to be ancient burial mounds has contributed to the conjecture that the Aos Si were a pre-Celtic inhabitants of Ireland.