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fairy,in folklore, one of a variety of supernatural beings endowed with the powers of magic and enchantment. Belief in fairies has existed from earliest times, and literatures all over the world have tales of fairies and their relations with humans. Some Christians have said that fairies were the ancestors of the ancient pagan gods, who, having been replaced by newer deities, were therefore hostile. Others thought that fairies were nature deities, similar to the Greek nymphsnymph
, in Greek mythology, female divinity associated with various natural objects. It is uncertain whether they were immortal or merely long-lived. There was an infinite variety of nymphs. Some represented various localities, e.g.
..... Click the link for more information. . Still others identified fairies with the souls of the dead, particularly the unbaptized, or with fallen angelsangel
, [Gr.,=messenger], bodiless, immortal spirit, limited in knowledge and power, accepted in the traditional belief of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and other religions. Angels appear frequently in the Bible, often in critical roles, e.g., visiting Abraham and Lot (Gen.
..... Click the link for more information. . Among their many guises, fairies have been described as tiny, wizen-faced old men, like the Irish leprechaunleprechaun
, Irish fairy represented as a tiny old man. Leprechauns are mischievous and elusive creatures, said to possess buried crocks of gold, the location of which they will reveal if forced.
..... Click the link for more information. ; as beautiful enchantresses who wooed men to their deaths, like Morgan le Fay and the LoreleiLorelei
, cliff, 433 ft (132 m) high, on the right bank of the Rhine River, near St. Goarshausen, W Germany, about midway between Koblenz and Bingen. There the Rhine forms a dangerous narrows, and in German legend a fairy similar to the Greek Sirens lived on the rock and by her
..... Click the link for more information. ; and as hideous, man-eating giants, like the ogre.
Fairies were frequently supposed to reside in a kingdom of their own—which might be underground, e.g., gnomesgnome
, in folklore, tiny subterranean creature associated with mines and quarries. Usually represented as misshapen, frequently as hunchbacked, gnomes are said to be guardians of hidden treasures.
..... Click the link for more information. ; in the sea, e.g., mermaidsmermaid,
in folklore, sea-dwelling creature commonly represented as having the head and body of a woman and a fishtail instead of legs. Belief in mermaids, and in their counterpart, mermen, has existed since earliest times.
..... Click the link for more information. ; in an enchanted part of the forest; or in some far land. Sometimes they were ruled by a king or queen, as were the trolls in Ibsen's Peer Gynt and the fairies in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Although fairies were usually represented as mischievous, capricious, and even demonic, they could also be loving and bountiful, as the fairy godmother in CinderellaCinderella,
heroine of one of the most famous folktales in the world. She is rescued from a life of drudgery by her fairy godmother and eventually marries a handsome prince.
..... Click the link for more information. . Sometimes fairies entered into love affairs with mortals, but usually such liaisons involved some restriction or compact and frequently ended in calamity, as did those of Melusine and Undine. Various peoples have emphasized particular kinds of fairies in their folklore, such as the Arabic jinnijinni
, feminine jinniyah
, plural jinn
, in Arabic and Islamic folklore, spirit or demon endowed with supernatural power. In ancient belief the jinn were associated with the destructive forces of nature.
..... Click the link for more information. , Scandinavian trolltroll
, in Scandinavian folklore, dwarfish or gigantic creature of caves and hills. Variously friendly or malicious, trolls toiled as smiths. The mountain king in Ibsen's Peer Gynt is a troll.
..... Click the link for more information. , Germanic elfelf,
in Germanic mythology, a type of fairy. Usually represented as tiny people, elves are said to dwell in forests, in the sea, and in the air. Although they can be friendly to man, they are more frequently vengeful and mischievous.
..... Click the link for more information. , and English pixiepixie,
in English folklore, spirit or fairy. The pixie is commonly represented as a mischievous imp who delights in flustering young maidens and leading travelers astray.
..... Click the link for more information. . Among the great adapters of fairy lore into popular fairy tales were Charles PerraultPerrault, Charles
, 1628–1703, French poet. His collections of eight fairy tales, Histoires ou contes du temps passé [stories or tales of olden times] (1697) gave classic form to the traditional stories of Bluebeard, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Puss in
..... Click the link for more information. , the brothers GrimmGrimm, Jakob
, 1785–1863, German philologist and folklorist, a founder of comparative philology. His interest in the relationship among Germanic languages led to his formulation of Grimm's law. His German grammar (1819–37) and his German Mythology (1835, tr.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Hans Christian AndersenAndersen, Hans Christian,
1805–75, Danish poet, novelist, and writer of fairy tales. Born to an illiterate washerwoman and reared in poverty, he left Odense at 14 for Copenhagen, where he lived with a wealthy family.
..... Click the link for more information. . Other notable contributors were Andrew LangLang, Andrew,
1844–1912, English scholar and man of letters, b. Scotland. His poetry, much of it written in the forms of ballades, triolets, and rondeaux, appeared in such volumes as his Ballads in Blue China (2 vol., 1880–81).
..... Click the link for more information. and James StephensStephens, James,
1882–1950, Irish poet and fiction writer, b. Dublin. One of the leading figures of the Irish literary renaissance, Stephens is best known for his fanciful and highly colored prose writings—The Crock of Gold (1912), The Demi-Gods
..... Click the link for more information. .
See K. M. Briggs, The Fairies in English Tradition and Literature (1967); J. D. Zipes, Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales (1979), Fairy Tale as Myth/Myth as Fairy Tale (1994), and When Dreams Came True: Classical Fairy Tales and Their Tradition (1999); M. M. Tatar, Off with Their Heads!: Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood (1992); M. Warner, From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers (1995).
What does it mean when you dream about a fairy?
Fairies are associated with childhood fantasies of nymphs and gnomes and magical helpers who come to fix human problems. In dreams fairies can also show unrealistic fantasies or a sense of magic with respect to life.