Green forest fairy. Source:  Atelier Sommerland/
Green forest fairy. Source: Atelier Sommerland/

Fairy Folk Lore

The lore of fairies is traditionally attributed to Ireland, but other locations, such as France and Germany, also had their tales of fairies and elves. There are many explanations of the wee folk, including old Pagan tales or that they are angelic beings who have been forced into hiding from humans.

The Tuatha Dé Danann [too-uh-huh dey dah-nuhn] (people of the Goddess Danu) are reported to be a mythical race in Ireland that was said to be the fifth tribe of people that settled there. Later, the Tuatha Dé Danann were referred to as the Aos Sí [ees shee] (also known as Sídhe) [shee] and became associated with fairy folk living around earthen mounds.

Fairies are sometimes considered tricksters and pranksters, conversely, they are often depicted as beautiful, diminutive beings with wings. However, not all depictions of fairies are light and beauty; several types, such as goblins, hobgoblins, and banshees are frightening and considered dangerous. Not offending the fairy folk became an important task to avoid their antics and tricks. Leaving milk and honey outside as an offering was practiced as a way to appease them.

It was sometimes feared that fairies would steal babies and leave deformed changelings in their place. Protections against this practice were made in the form of iron fireside tongs laid across the crib, crucifixes hung over cribs, or red garments laid in the cradle.

Today, fairies are still found in our popular folk and fairy tales that have endured through the centuries. Often, the tales are reworked to exclude the often violent elements typically found in older fairy stories, such as found in the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The fairy is seen today as a helper that grants wishes, the fairy godmother that makes dreams come true.

Type of Fairies

Here are descriptions of various types of fairies and other mythical creatures. There are many more magical creatures that are not listed here, such as dryads, mermaids, sprites, sylphs, hobgoblins, imps, ghouls, gremlins, ogres, leprechauns, nymphs, and other such mystical beings.


These are the type of fairies that are most often brought to mind; beautiful human-like beings with wings, typically quite small. These are said to grant wishes, blessings, or at times cause harmless mischief. Fairy Godmothers, such as found in Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, are helpers, sent to bring the dreams of good people to life.


Elves originate in Germany and are magical beings that may help humans or may cause trouble. Popular fairy stories such as The Elves and the Shoemaker depict these small beings as helping the troubled shoemaker by creating shoes. Once presented with clothes, they were so delighted that they left the shoemaker, never to return again.


The legend of brownies comes from England and Scotland. In England, the brownies are said to inhabit houses and to help with the chores. They are typically up at night, doing these things in secret. In Scotland, they typically stayed outdoors. It was typical to leave gifts such as honey or porridge out for them. If the brownies ever felt they were being mistreated or the gifts were considered as payment by the homeowner, they would leave the house forever. The house elves in Harry Potter series are based on the legends of brownies.


Goblins are said to originate in Britain and are considered grotesque, evil creatures that cause mayhem and trouble. They are typically somewhat smaller than humans and are often depicted with misshapen forms and stooped bodies, living in caves, mountains, and other desolate landscapes. Modern fairy tales such as Lord of the Rings and the movie Labyrinth depict goblins as troublesome, dangerous creatures.


Banshees (woman of the fairy mounds) are a terrifying specter originating in Ireland. Typically, banshees appear as ugly old hags, but they are sometimes known to take the shape of a young, beautiful woman. Their cry is said to predict violent, unexpected deaths. Certain Irish families are said to attract banshees that will predict a death in the family or mourn the loss of important persons who have already died. The banshee’s screeching cry is horrible to hear, piercing through dark nights and striking terror into the hearts of those who hear her.


The legend of the gnomes was first introduced by Paracelsus, a 16th century Swiss alchemist. Gnomes are small beings that live underground, guarding underground treasures and mines and are associated with earth and the underground. Garden gnome lawn ornaments are a popular depiction found in households today.

There are many more creatures that inhabit the fairy realm and the magical places in the world.  Here are some books to get your imagination going:

  • Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology by Theresa Bane
  • Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses by Judika Illes
  • Irish Fairy and Folk Tales by William Butler Yeats
  • Legends, Charms and Superstitions of Ireland by Lady Wilde

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