The Fae Folk: Your ULTIMATE Guide on Everything About Fairies
There’s a world parallel to ours, or perhaps underneath. Or maybe somewhere in-betwixt. It’s a world in the mist, under and beyond the sea, filled with beings not unlike ourselves. And yet somehow they’re completely different. I’m talking about the fairy realm. The fae folk reside there. Have you ever wanted to meet the fae? In this blog post, take an enchanted journey with me to their world and learn of their origins, their true nature, their likes and dislikes, and basically everything we know about them. Enjoy meeting them, but don’t eat the food! Or you might not ever return to our world.
Since I was a little girl, I’ve been obsessed with the fae. Fairy tales like Thumbelina, The Little Mermaid, and Rumpelstiltskin fed my belief in another world parallel to ours…the world of the fae. When I was nine years old, a family member gave me a roleplaying board game called Tales of the Crystals. Of which further fueled my desire to learn more about fairies and even be more like fairies. During my teen years, I began studying fairy lore and I haven’t turned back since.
The Fae Folk: Who Are They, Exactly?
So who are the fae folk, exactly? If you haven’t figured it out by now, the words fae and fae folk are just other names for fairies. You’ve surely seen them in movies or in books, haven’t you? The thing is, they’re often portrayed as beautiful, winged pixies flitting from flower top to flower top. Hollywood has painted a picture of the fae that is deceitful at worst, narrow-minded at best. Because the true nature of the fae is incredibly more complex. And not all fae are cute little pixies.
Classification: The Seelie and Unseelie Courts
The nature of the fae folk can’t be divided into strict categories like good and bad. Some cultures have tried to label them and define them. In Scottish and Northern English folklore, the Seelie Court is the “mostly good, benevolent” fairies. While the Unseelie Court is made up of harmful fairies that tend to be malevolent towards humans more so than the Seelie Court. Fun fact! The word Seelie means happy or lucky and is the word from which silly is derived. So when someone says you’re acting silly, you can smile and know you’ve just been called a fairy!
But to continue defining the fae folk, we’d have to call them both good and bad. They are an oxymoron. A divine paradox. Because even though the Scottish called the Seelie mostly benevolent, they still considered them dangerous to humans. This is because fairies don’t adhere to human rules. They don’t follow our logic on ethics or morals. They have their own set of rules they go by, which on this plane of existence might seem very “gray”.
The Capriciousness of the Fae
The fae folk enjoy playing tricks on humans. It seems no matter the type or class of fairy, they are capricious at their core. Even the Scottish household fae, the Brownie, will turn malevolent towards humans if angered. He will play nasty tricks on his house and all who live in it. And those cute little pixies that drop fairy dust behind them? While they can be helpful to deserving individuals, they’re also known to pinch and kick lazy humans. Or anyone they feel like.
“Provided that you didn’t interfere with ’em, they wouldn’t say or do anything to you.” ~ Green and Lenihan’s “Meeting the Other Crowd”
But What Are They? Fallen Angels? Tiny Humans? Or Spirits?
Now that we’ve established the fae are mischievous and have their own set of rules, let’s answer the question what are the fae? This is an even harder question to answer. There have been dozens of theories put forth over the centuries. One theory says the fae are fallen angels, spirits that are stuck between Heaven and Hell. Another says the fae are the souls of unbaptized babies, not good enough to ascend but not bad enough to burn for eternity.
Another theory says the fae are actual physical beings – a race of smaller human beings that evolved to fit their habitat. In 2003, archaeologists found a race of dwarf-sized human beings they named homo floriensis of which they also called hobbits. The female skeleton stood under a meter tall with her head the “size of a grapefruit”, according to Wired.com. Homo floriensis lived only 18,000 years ago. Taking this information into account, isn’t it possible a similar race of small human beings might have lived elsewhere on the planet, spurring beliefs in fairies?
While I’m inclined to scientifically rationalize and adhere to the previous theory, my magical self thinks the fae folk are more complicated than that. Many people today still believe in the fae, and that instead of being lost souls or fallen angels. Or even a race of small human beings, the fae folk are spiritual in nature. They are liminal creatures, meaning they can manifest in the physical but they are ethereal in form. And if they are truly spiritual beings, this means they can shapeshift and take nearly any form they choose. They could be giants or tiny pixies. A water-logged, majestic water horse like the kelpie or a hideous, human-eating troll under a bridge. They could even take the form of our worst fears or most beautiful dreams.
The fae folk may also be a type of guardian spirit called an elemental. Elementals are spirits of nature – the actual consciousness of the land, trees, rivers, mountains, etc. Perhaps the fae are simply that – nature spirits. But again, I think there’s much more to the fae than meets the eye.
Where to Find The Fae Folk
Maybe you’ve seen a fairy before. Or maybe you’re dying to see one in real life. I can’t guarantee you’ll ever see one of the fae. Because, let’s face it, they’re elusive, finicky little things. If they want you to see them, you will. If they don’t want you to see them, you won’t. It’s as simple as that. However, it may be possible to find them at their sacred haunts, typically in natural, untouched places. They are frequently felt, heard and seen in the forests, playing in and around creeks and rivers, on the tops of mountains, and near waterfalls. Although, I have a friend who claims he’s seen one smack-dab in the middle of a crowded city. Remember when I said there are no rules with the fae? They could be anywhere.
Fairy Rings and Trails
A particularly well-known sign a fairy is near is the fairy ring. Fairy rings are light or dark colored circles in the grass, a circle of mushrooms, or even a small circle of stones. You’re likely to find that a small circle of stones created by fairies will be in a forest, far away from human hustle and bustle. But fairy rings of the grass or mushroom variety? You might see those in your own backyard! They say you should never stop into the middle of a fairy ring, lest you be whisked away to the fairy realm forever. The fairy trail or path is “like a faery ring except it’s a long trail of dark grass rather than a circle”, according to the late author and witch Edain McCoy. She says these fairy trails are the roads that trooping fairies take to travel from one place to the next.
In Ireland, we have something called fairy mounds. Also called fairy forts or raths. These are essentially ruins of old Medieval forts, but can also be hills or ancient burial mounds. For centuries, at least since the late Medieval Age, the people believed these hills to be the dwellings of the fae folk. Many sightings tell of fairies entering and emerging from fairy mounds. These mounds are portals or doors to the fairy realm. Irish lore says never to disturb a fairy fort – even cutting trees or bushes that surround the fairy fort may warrant the individual’s untimely death.
Interestingly, there seems to be some overlap between the fae and ancient ancestors. Some of the burial mounds where we’ve found human remains are also associated with the fae. And still some mythical figures in Ireland, like Queen Medb for example, are purportedly buried in a fairy mound. And with Queen Medb specifically, she crosses over from mythical queen to fairy queen to goddess. So it begs to question, were the fairies our ancestors’ spirits or vice versa? But I don’t want to confuse you, so let’s keep talking about places to find fairies.
The Celtic Otherworld
In Celtic mythology, there’s another place parallel to ours, or sometimes underneath ours, called the Otherworld. The fae folk are often featured in myths about the Otherworld. In the Silver Gadelica, Teigue takes a journey across the sea (an Immramma) and meets the fairy queen Cliodhna in the Celtic Otherworld. In fact, many of the myths about the Celtic Otherworld tell us that it’s a land through the mist and/or across the ocean. And that it’s often a place made up of many mystical islands…similar to earth yet different. It’s a beautiful place, and sometimes a terrifying place, filled with wonders, healing trees, and fairies. But it can also prove dangerous and be a horrible place filled with monsters. This truly depends on the myth and whose journey it is. Many believe the Celtic Otherworld is also where we go when we die.
“Bran sees the number of waves beating across the clear sea: I myself sea Mag Mon, Red headed flowers without fault. Sea-horses glisten in the summer, as far as Bran has stretched his glance: rivers pour forth a stream of honey, in the land of Manannan son of Ler.” ~ The Voyage of Bran mac Febal to the Land of the Living, circa 900 AD
In the Home
It might surprise you to learn the fae folk sometimes make their home in OUR homes. Yes, there are fairies who prefer to take up a cozy bed in a nice family’s abode. I call these household fairies, and they are typically benevolent to humans. For the most part. Unless they are angered. Household fairies are said to live in an undisturbed, quite cabinet, cupboard, or closet somewhere in the house. Some live in, under or behind the hearth, like the Slavic Domovoi. There are even fairies who live in the wine cellar, in the barn, and in other inconspicuous places. They tend to come out at night, when we are all asleep and do their work.
Listen to our show all about Household Fairies here:
Many Types of Fae
Every culture around the world has its own version of the fae folk. There are literally hundreds of names for them worldwide. Fairies, fae folk, the sidhe, the good folk, the gentry, the little people, elves, goblins. Within these are actual types of fairies. Here are some of our favorites:
Brownies are solitary fairies in Scottish folklore. They typically attach to a family, not necessarily their house, and move in to aid the woman of the house with her chores. They are small, wizened men with hair all over their bodies. Brownies are shapeshifters and occasionally take on the rooster’s form on the farm. He’s typically found in the old manors and homes in Scotland, but some believe he traveled to the New World with Scottish immigrants. He likes helping a deserving family, but despises laziness. Don’t give him clothing, or he might leave. And don’t anger him by giving him sour milk or he could turn into a boggart.
The bean-sidhe (banshee) is a type of fairy from Ireland and the British Isles. But truly she’s been seen all over the world where Celtic people dwell including in continental Europe and the United States. The banshee is said to wail or scream upon the death of a beloved family member. She is attached to the oldest Irish families and will also warn them of impending doom. Modern sources mistake her for a ghost, but she’s actually one of the fae folk.
A kobold is a German house fairy similar to the Scottish brownie. But they tend to look younger and wear a brown cap and brown shorts. They are frequently benevolent and enjoy helping out around the house for hardworking people. But they can be mischievous and sometimes outright dangerous. One particular kobold by the name Hodekin became homicidal and had to be exorcised from his castle after killing a child and pushing the cook into the moat. Some legends say kobolds are sprites or even hobgoblins, and they don’t just live in houses. They are also seen aboard ships and in mines.
Probably the most famous fairy in the world is the pixie. Pixies are small, winged human-like creatures whose heads are larger than their bodies. They are attracted to beautiful flower gardens and fields of wildflowers. They are mischievous but can also be helpful, depending on the person who encounters them. Pixies are known to kick, pinch and pull hair when they’re feeling particularly capricious. But they’ve also taken pity on a deserving person and aided them in their time of need. Pixies are warded off by iron. And if they exposed to iron over a long period of time, it can kill them. The most famous of pixies is Tinkerbell, of course.
Elves are fae from Norse and Germanic mythology, but can also be considered gods or demi-gods. Freya, for example, is from a race of Elven gods called the Vanir, making her an Elf and a goddess simultaneously. They often manifest on this plane as tall, graceful and beautiful beings with pointed ears and long hair. As trooping fairies, they ride their horses in groups and travel the land together. The belief in Elves in Northern European countries was so strong for so long, that many believed the elves powerful enough to kidnap their children and kill full-grown adults. The legends of elves range from beneficial to downright homicidal (just like any other fairy).
Yes, the leprechaun is a type of fae folk. He is solitary, for the most part, and legend has it he lives at the end of the rainbow where he also keeps his treasure horde. The leprechaun is always male and wears nice, green clothes and a green hat. He guards his treasure and enjoys playing tricks on humans of whom encounter him. He has been known to grant wishes and help certain kind, hard-working folk. But more often than not, he is drunk and looking to make mischief.
Gnomes are little people who live in the gnarled, twisted roots of ancient trees. They frequently are seen wearing red caps, and the men have long white or gray beards. In ceremonial magical traditions, gnomes are also a type of elemental. Which means they are a nature guardian spirit that guard the cardinal direction North, along with the element of Earth. They are evoked as Guardians of the Watchtower of the North in Wiccan and high magic circles. When seen in their natural habitats, they are elusive and sometimes dangerous if their territory is encroached upon.
What The Faery Folk Dislike + Protection from Malevolent Fae
Surely the fae have their likes and dislikes, just like us, right? Of course! In fact, there are certain things they adore and will reward humans for. And also things they despise and will punish humans for. Another online source or witchy blog claims fairies “hate dirt” or “hate to be dirty”, this is an over-generalization. It depends on the type of fairy and the habitat in which they manifest. For instance, the kobold requires cleanliness but enjoys aiding in the cleaning process. So you wouldn’t want your house too clean, or the kobold might bolt. But what about a ballybog? The fae folk that live in the bogs? They’re known to be smelly and caked in plant matter and mud. The point is – don’t assume because one fairy likes something the other does too.
Warding Fae: Iron, Bells, and Herbs
It’s long been known that iron wards off the fae. With some faeries, like the pixie, an over-exposure to it can actually “kill” them. Although, if they’re spiritual in nature, I’m not too sure how this works. Hanging an iron horseshoe (prongs up) above your door and barn door protects the inhabitants (including animals) from faery tricks or harm. In Russia, a scythe is hung over the door instead. Ring large and deep-toned bells to ward off malevolent fae before ritual or to clear a home from their ill effects. It’s long been thought bells scare the fae because they associate them with the Church.
Certain herbs are known to deter the fae (when carried on the person or into the home with intention) including: garlic, rue, gorse, heather, rosemary, clove, blackberry, bay, pepper and sandalwood. Note: salt is another deterrent and typically in everyone’s household. A circle of salt around the home protects from evil, including from trickster spirits like the fae. The fae enjoy a nice fire; however, they dislike excessive amounts of smoke. So if you’re dealing with a trickster fae in your home or property, a good smoke-cleansing ritual should remove them.
Here’s another episode all about the Fairy Realm:
How to Work With the Fae Folk
Many modern magical practitioners will tell you working with the fae folk is no laughing matter. It’s not to be taken lightly, no matter what vibe you’ve gotten from Hollywood or elsewhere. The fae are healers, guardians, and even teachers…when they choose to be. But in the same breath, they can be tricksters, deceivers, and even killers…when they choose to be. So, if you plan to work with the fae folk, use extreme caution. Do your research and then do some more. Know how to protect yourself. And know how to respectfully approach the elemental realm.
1. Fairy Gardens and Homes
Probably the easiest (and most beneficial) fae to work with are the flower garden variety. These include pixies. The easiest way to attract them is by building and maintaining a garden. Add flowers, particularly native flowers, to your garden and make it a safe haven for pollinators. It’s almost natural, once the bees, butterflies, birds and moths arrive, so do the flower faeries. By setting up a specific space for the fae in your garden, you are welcoming them to your space. Make your own fairy houses and furniture, or buy online or at a local craft store.
2. Fairy Libations and Offerings
Once you have your fairy garden all set up, it’s time to invite the fae in with alluring treats. Traditionally, faeries love milk, butter, cream, cakes, and ale. I’ve found they also enjoy fresh fruit, as well. If you make the cakes or treats, this is even better! When you set out your fairy offerings in your garden, say something like, “if any of the good folk would like to partake of this _____, she’s all yours.” After leaving a few offerings, you can invite them to your fairy garden but make it know what your boundaries are. For instance, if you don’t want them in your house, let them know politely. Faeries appreciate manners and despise rudeness.
3. Caring for Wildlife
Another natural way to attract and work with the fae is by caring for local wildlife. Even if this just means you set a pollinator garden in your backyard OR you can offer a bit of your time to a local animal rescue. The fae seem to come around those who are in tune with Mother Earth and her creatures naturally.
4. Dreams and Astral Travel
The times I’ve seen and experienced the fae have mostly been on the astral plane. If you’re a lucid dreamer or astral projector, this is a simple way to make their acquaintance. Oddly, I’ve never truly called on them and they sometimes just appear. But if you want to intentionally meet and talk to them, make your intentions clear before going to sleep or before going into meditation. Be aware, some may not have your best interests at heart, so if you have a particularly scary experience, cleanse yourself and your space. Wards may be helpful, as well, like a piece of iron by the bedside.
5. Household Fae
There are some modern magic practitioners who consider themselves kitchen or cottage witches. These individuals sometimes enjoy working with household types of fae like brownies, bean-tighes and kobolds. If this is you, and you make magick in your kitchen, perhaps a household fairy would work for you. Create a space for them in your kitchen, a space that won’t be disturbed by other people or animals. Then invite them to your space through offerings, candlelight, and you can even do this through astral travel. Be aware – depending on the type of fae, you’ll want to understand what angers them and what keeps them content. For example, brownies can’t be given clothing or they’ll leave. And kobolds may get violent if they aren’t respected or made fun of.
Signs the Fae Folk Are Near
If you’ve been working on attracting the good folk to your garden of home, how do you know when they’re present? Or even near? Here’s some signs to watch for:
- Hearing far-off music, specifically harps and flutes are common
- Things go missing or get moved without explanation (particularly shiny things like jewelry, rings, coins, trinkets, crystals, etc.)
- Your garden is thriving! Flowers are blooming earlier than expected OR seem to have burst forth overnight
- Finding a fairy ring in your garden or yard
- If a mess has been made of the straw in your garden or barn (faeries love to play in the straw)
- You find fairy knots in your hair OR in your animals hair
- Seeing them in your dreams or during a hypnogogic state
- Leaving offerings and finding them gone the next day (bowl is empty, cup licked clean, etc.)
- Finding your kitchen or home cleaner than when you left it (if we should all be so blessed!)
Books on Fairies (And Sources Used):
- A Witch’s Guide to Faery Folk by Edain McCoy
- The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries by WY Evans Wentz
- Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry by WB Yeats
- Meeting the Other Crowd by Eddie Lenihan & Carolyn Eve Green
- Tales of the Celtic Otherworld by John Matthews
- Fairy Queens by Morgain Daimler