Faerie Exploration International
Part Three: Basic Kinds of Fairies
Next, a bit of categorization. Fairies go by many names, in many cultures, and take many forms. Here are some of the commoner forms, in the very broadest of categories.
1. Wee People. Folklore abounds around the world, about human-appearing (or close enough) people with mysterious powers, who stand about a yard or a meter tall at adulthood.
My own tribe calls them the Surem. The indigenous people of San Diego, where I grew up, calls them Eeyapoo. The medicine people of my husband's tribe regularly obtain their aid in healing and in finding healthful herbs. Different tribes give them different names, but many Indians alive today have seen them. Some white people have, too.
Europeans would more likely know them as elfs, pixies, leprechauns, cluricauns, gnomes, brownies, wee folk, and other names, and here too, people live today who have seen them. I do not know what names they have in Africa or Asia, because all of the accounts I have read came filtered through translation. But they exist everywhere on Earth that people have lived in long enough to observe. (I do not know of any accounts out of Antarctica, but then I have not read much on the research colonies there.)
2. Tall fairies, nowadays called elves. Although "elf" formerly referred to the small kind (at least in Victorian days--ironically, the word derives from the norse Alfar, which referred to human-sized fairies) JRR Tolkien's fiction popularized this term in Modern English for the humanesque fairies (as was his intention.) Nevertheless, they have been around long before the invention of the novel. They can pass for human, yet to the sensitive they feel different. They often have some abnormality (by human standards) not evident at first glance, or concealed by clothing or how they comb their hair. It almost seems as though they attempt to imitate us (to improve relations with us?) but make small mistakes.
In these days, people who report close encounters often (especially at first) experience difficulty seeing them directly, catching them only as white or silver blurs from the corner of the eye. Others might feel their touch. (Personally I've had the distinct experience of having one hold my hand while another brutally but healingly massaged a badly cramped calf-muscle back to health, thereby abruptly halting an excruciating fibromyalgic pain-cascade, but I could not catch more than the faintest glimpse of either person the entire time.)
Even in dreams this often holds true, at least initially. In fact difficulty seeing a fairy in a dream (for one just beginning to dream of them) has more likelihood of being a transpersonal encounter with a real Other than a more vivid experience, which might simply be a symbol out of ones personal psychology. (Later practice makes them more readily visible, in a way distinguishable from regular dreams by lucidity and a sensation of a long-dormant part of oneself waking up even as one knows that one's body sleeps.)
This obscurity has not always been the case. Old accounts abound of eye-witnesses to tall fairies, as well as day-to-day interactions, even intermarriage. Some say that we owe our current difficulties to an increased divergence in the paths of human and fey consensus reality.
3. Tiny fairies. Depicted in Victorian art as winged little ladies, in real life those who have seen them often perceive them as spots or balls of light, frequently in colors. These sentient and interactive lights can expand or contract in size, even become huge, although they seem to much prefer staying miniscule. Some "flying saucer" reports might actually be this kind of fairy in expanded form, misconstrued.
To distinguish tiny fairies from "floaters" (those dead cells floating around inside your eyes that become visible when you're especially fatigued) test to see if they stay in roughly the same place before your sight no matter where you look. Floaters will, fairies won't.
Note: Many historical accounts mention any of these three categories of fairy changing size to become any other. They might, in fact, belong to a single category. If a people could change size at will, economic and ecological conservation might recommend a preference for the smaller forms. As fairy-kind and humankind diverge, it might also take a greater expenditure of energy for a fairy to manifest to a human being, which would make the tinier form easier for visual effect.
4. Devas and Elementals. These affiliate with bodies of water, fire, air currents, clouds, trees, rocks, volcanoes, plants, geographic features, areas of land, animals in groups or individually, even music.. Devas or elementals sometimes change shapes, becoming anthropomorphic at will, or taking still other forms beside their primary ones. Some have called them the guardian angels or gods of these things, and they do seem to have a sense of mission to nurture whatever they seem tied to. However, to my own understanding they also seem fallible, and sometimes vulnerable. "All my relations" seems more apt, in my personal opinion--fellow creatures trying to do the Creator's work, with mixed results--but your milage may vary. There's plenty of room for a range of opinions, as we try to understand these beings
5. Fabulous beasts. I almost hesitate to include this one, because as soon as a fabulous beast becomes discovered and documented, it ceases to be fabulous. Zoologists once included gorillas and giant squids among the fabulous beasts, alongside unicorns and chimerae.
6. Monsters. Ogres, bogies, goblins, trolls, etc. These take many different forms, usually grotesque, occasionally seductive. These fairies, according to one theory, made bad choices, and these choices have distorted their forms.
Appearance doesn't always indicate character, however--maybe even not usually. Many a good fairy appears ugly, perhaps to test our ability to look beyond superficials, or it could be that this particular fairy lacks the skill to create an optimal form. One must also consider a possible difference in aesthetic. Plenty of fairies look just plain weird, but mean no harm. In contrast, many an evil fairy has appeared ravishing, the better to lure in victims.
Even so, some fairies just plain revel in ugliness and violence, and pose a real danger to those bold enough to approach them. Folks in the British Isles lump these miscreants together as "The Unseelie Court", as distinguished from good fairies in "The Seelie Court."
Here, too, fairies exhibit a mercurial quality. In parts of England, good wee people are called brownies and bad wee people are called bogies, but I have read accounts of embittered brownies changing into bogies, and at least one bogie came to love a family for generations, and for that family manifested as a brownie. It is even possible for a good fairy to take on monstrous, frightening features so as to scare us for our own good, or chase us to some benign outcome. And of course there are many fairies, beautiful or foul, who lead morally ambiguous lives, even as many human beings do.
7. Dragons. Whether these fall into the category of Monster or Fabulous Beast depends largely on culture. The Western world generally takes against them, while the Eastern world favors them. But they are powerful, intelligent, do not suffer fools lightly, and if modern historians leave them out of their translations of older histories, they do so arbitrarily. Indeed, a dragon crops up openly in the Catholic Bible, though only the most oblique references survive into the Protestant Bible.
8. Mer-folk. Mermaids, naiads, silkies, nixies, call them what you will, these amphibious persons (and occasionally fey horses or cattle) live on, by, or in the water, can breathe both water and air, and may or may not have features of aquatic animals.
I have probably omitted some important category or point. If I think of any later, I will come back and edit this
--Dolores J. Nurss