30+ Types of Fairies Worldwide: Brownies, Elves, Gnomes, and More!
As a little girl, nothing fascinated more than the faery realm. I watched any and every movie that featured fairies, devoured fairy tale books, and had figurines all over my bedroom. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I learned there were more than a few types of fairies. And that the realm of the fay was much more beautifully complicated and dangerous than I ever imagined! The fairies we see in mainstream media are typically the garden-fairy variety or pixies. But that leaves out the brownies, elves, gnomes, dwarves, and many more.
First, What Are Fairies?
What are fairies? And where do they come from? Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a different answer every time. These illusive creatures are theorized to be everything from an ancient tiny race of human beings to gods to the souls of unbaptized children. I always felt the answer was somewhere in between and maybe a mixture of a few things: they are spirits of nature, guardians of wildlife and sacred natural places, but also may once have been considered gods. And, as mentioned before, it also depends on the culture.
30+ Different Types of Fairies All Over the World
Alven are a type of fairy from Holland who are attached to bodies of water: lakes, rivers, and ponds. Though the River Elbe is particularly sacred to them. Alven travel by way of bubbles – they get inside bubbles and float along to their destination. When seen, alven are tiny enough to fit in a bubble OR sometimes take the shapeshifted form of an otter. This is why their other name is ottermaaner. They come out in hordes on the full moon, dancing and playing in the moonlight reflected on the water. Alven aren’t typically mean to human beings, unless you desecrate their home or pick night-blooming flowers near their sacred river.
The Scottish boggart may be the original “boogie-man” or “bogey man”. They look like the Scottish brownie, but they aren’t nice. And they won’t do your chores. Some people believe brownies turn into boggarts when angered. A boggart is not a good fairy to have in your house, as they seek to destroy your home. Legend says they chew on the wood like a termite and will try to suffocate children at night. Enter the story of the boogey-man coming out at night and tormenting children. If they’re not in a house, they’re scaring travelers on rural roads.
3. Bean-sidhe, a.k.a. Banshee (Type of Death Fairy)
The bean-sidhe (banshee) is probably the most well-known death fairy from Irish lore. She is also known as the Washer at the Fords and the Wailing Woman. The Morrigan, who is a Celtic war goddess, is often associated with the banshee. And some believe they are one-in-the-same. This type of fairy is believed to be attached to the old noble Irish families. Her scream is heard right before someone dies, sometimes right outside the dying’s window. If you see her washing bloody shrouds in the river, it’s also a sign you or your family member will soon depart. Her presence is an omen of imminent death and therefore many people fear this type of fairy. Read more about the banshee here.
4. Bean-tighe: Irish House Fairy
The bean-tighe (bantee) is the Irish version of the Scottish brownie. She is a pleasant type of fairy that lives in a family’s household and helps with their chores. The main difference between the bean-tighe and the brownie gender: the bean-tighe is female. The name bean-tighe translates to “woman of the house”. When the bean-tighe is spotted, she’s typically wearing tattered house-clothes. Her face is wrinkly and she stands no taller than a few feet. Not only does she help with household chores, she watches over children and animals in the house.
5. Brownies: A Type of Scottish House Fairy
The Scottish brownie isn’t a dessert. He’s a house fairy that lives in old manors and homes in Scotland. He is a small fairy standing about two feet tall and helps with household chores once the lady of the house goes to sleep. The brownie only aids those who are worthy, he doesn’t like laziness. Never give a brownie clothes, or he might leave. Brownies might have traveled with Scottish immigrants to the United States and Canada. And he’s a shapeshifter, often taking the form of the rooster to crow in the morning.
The hobgoblin is a type of fairy from Northern England and may be the same creature as the Scottish boggart. The name hobgoblin comes from hob which means elf and goblin which means mischievous fairy. According to old folklore, the hob was once a hearth spirit and helpful to the household. But as Christianity rose to power, the hob became the hobgoblin and was demonized. Hobgoblins look like Scottish brownies – small, hairy little men. They enjoyed doing chores around the house like ironing, sweeping, etc. in exchange for food offerings and libations. Shakepeare’s version of Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream is probably the most famous literary hobgoblin next to Dobby of the Harry Potter Series. It seems this type of fairy is helpful until it’s angered…just like it’s Scottish counterpart.
7. Buttery Sprites
Sounds delicious, right? Unfortunately buttery sprites are not a new flavor of soda. They’re a type of fairy from England who were particularly precocious in Medieval Times. They’re called buttery sprites because they are spirits who love to steal freshly churned butter! No one claims to have ever seen a buttery sprite – they come out at night and are likely invisible unless want to be seen. I picture them somewhere close to the pixie. Sprites love to irritate and play pranks on hypocritical people.
Pixies are the most well-known type of fairy and seem to be the image most people call up when hearing the word “fairy”. Other names for pixies include dusters, piskies, grigs, pechts, and pickers. They are of Scottish and English origin. Tinkerbell, the fairy in Peter Pan, is a pixie and depicts the classic piskie looks: small, winged creature with a large head and tiny body. There are theories that suggest “pixie” relates to the Picts, ancient people who once occupied Scotland. Pixies love gardens full of flowers and are active on the Spring and Summer sabbats: Ostara, Beltane, Litha, and Lughnasadh. They are generally helpful but incredibly mischievous.
Gnomes are a small type of fairy that live in the roots and trunks of ancient trees. The male gnomes have long white beards and white hair. Gnomes wear red hats and the females are sometimes seen holding their tiny babies. They protect the forest and the wildlife around them, and as such are part of the traditional “elementals” in ceremonial magick. Gnomes are called upon when summoning the Guardians of the Watchtowers of the North in a magic circle. Ghob is the king of the gnome kingdom. When gnomes live in your garden, your garden will surely be blessed.
In Norse mythology, elves are god-like. Freyr, King of the Elves, is illustrated and treated as a god and divine ancestor to those of Swedish blood. There are light elves and dark elves in the Prose Edda. While ingrained in Norse and Germanic mythos, elves are seen worldwide. They can appear as tall, radiant beings or tiny as a mouse. In Germany, elves are known as expert weavers and spinners, hence the fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin (an elf that spins gold). Elves typically travel in groups, and when they do so are called trooping elves. In the United States, elves are seen at the edges of forests and sometimes in quiet graveyards and always wear green with green hats.
Callicantzaroi are malevolent goblin-type fairies in old Mediterranean and Anatolian folklore. Though their malevolence is debated and their reputation may have been ruined with the rise of the church. These goblins ride on the backs of chickens and their favorite food is pork. They are supposedly ugly little men who ride in groups along with other goblins and fairies. The Callicantzaroi are active on the nights approaching winter solstice and supposedly are never seen past the twelfth night. Illustrations show the callicantzaros having misformed teeth, donkey ears and goat legs. In Turkey they are equated with vampires and werewolves.
12. Chin-chin Kobakama
The chin chin kobakama is a Japanese house fairy that prefers the home to be kept clean. Specifically the floors. If it’s clean, they will bless the home. If it’s not clean and the residents are lazy, this fairy will pick on the home’s inhabitants with no regard. They look like tiny, wizened elves but are surprisingly energetic and spry. There’s an old fairy tale where a woman is tormented by “little men” who live in the carpet. When her husband lashes out at them, they turn into toothpicks.
13. Domovoi: A Type of Russian House Fairy
The Scottish have their brownie, the Japanese the chin chin kobokama, and the Slavs have the domovoi. The domovoi are household spirits, who are fond of the hearth. They are fierce protectors of the Slavic home as long as they are fed and kept appeased. The domovoi are a type of elf and live in the hearth’s flames. The domovoi is a shapeshifter and appears as a little woman, man, cat, cow, or pig depending on its mood. He is also called the Old Man of the House. This type of fairy is believed to have been an ancestor’s spirit. In some tales, the eldest person would be the first to enter a new home. They would be the first to die and so become the home’s domovoi. The domovoi’s main job was to protect the home from other spirits, the elements, and dark magic.
Dryads are originally a Greek type of tree fairy or the actual spirits of the trees. But truly their presence is worldwide. If you listen to the trees blowing in the breeze, you’ll hear their whispers. Dryads appear as pure whisps of light that dart from tree-top to tree-top. Dryads may be the spirits who gave the name to the Celtic priesthood, Druids. After all, Druids’ worship centered around trees and tree groves were their sanctuaries. Daphne is the most famous of dryads. In Greek mythology, Daphne was pursued by the god Apollo and thereafter turned into a laurel tree.
The jimaninos are trooping fairies that fly in groups over Mexico particularly on holy nights of the year. When seen, they look like cupids or fat, chubby children. There are both male and female jimaninos (male = jimaninos, female = jimaninas). This is where the theory of fairies being unbaptized children’s souls is perpetuated. Since the jimaninos resemble children and fly in the sky, people who see the assume they are lost children’s souls.
Knockers are of Cornish origin, but this type of fairy is heard all over the world. Some people don’t believe they are fairies, but frightening ghosts instead. They tend to make a lot of noise, hence their name knockers. Knockers are heard deep in the earth – in caves and mines. They’ve scared off many miners over the centuries, some that swear they’d never return to mining. Others claim knockers lead the miners to riches. They’ve also been known to jump out and make funny faces at the miners. Knockers can create mine cave-ins but have also helped lost miners find their way out. Or have aided rescue teams to caved-in miners. The custom is to knock when you enter the mine to let them know you’re there and doff your hat in greeting. Others feed the knockers with offerings of food.
Before the indigenous Hawaiians lived on the islands, a smaller race of people called Menehuna lived there. Some of the lakes are said to have been made by the menehuna. These fairies are tropical and are seen in the forests of Polynesia. In addition to being expert builders, they are treasure hoarders similar to the Irish leprechaun. They are capricious but typically benevolent to humans who respect Mother Earth.
Greenies, also called moss people and flying leaves, are seen in nearly every forest in the world. They are tiny fairies that dance and flit from tree to tree. But just when you think you see them, they’re gone. They are experts at camouflaging themselves, so even when you think you see them in a photo, you’ll look again and nothing’s there. In Germany and Switzerland they are equated with butterflies. This winged fairy is active in Spring and Summer and are only found in the most dense of woodlands. Some claim you can communicate with them by first offering fresh milk and sweets. But be careful! They are capricious like pixies and won’t hesitate to play pranks or steal your things.
Nixies or the nixen are water fairies with a tendency to lure unsuspecting sailors to their deaths on rocks. They also enjoy stirring up a good thunderstorm when humans are encroaching on their territory. When they leave their river homes, they are beautiful and seductive women. You may be tempted, but you’ll know she’s a nixie if she appears wet and covered in water plant material. This water fairy was once seen often trying to take men with them into the depths of the waters. They’ve been seen less frequently over the past century or so.
The phooka is a fairy of Irish myth with the head of a person and the body of a horse. They are always malevolent and/or mischievous and steal crops from farmers. Especially any crops that aren’t harvested before Samhain (Halloween). The phooka spooks children with no regard and have been known to kill livestock. Watch your babies, because the phooka rides around looking for the perfect child to steal and replace with a changeling. Phookas are typically seen after Samhain and before Midsummer, never in-between those times. If you want to harvest plants after sunset, you risk meeting a phooka.
21. Red Caps
As their name suggests, red caps are fairy who always wear red hats. They are solitary fairies that haunt old ruins of castles and manors in Scotland and England. Red cap sightings have been documented for centuries, even in modern times. When you see a red cap, don’t get curious. Run. He is said to be a cannibal and will strike down anyone he sees that he feels is a threat. The red cap he wears is supposedly stained from blood. In addition to wearing a red cap, you’ll know him by his small stature, hairy body and he carries a scythe. Perhaps he’s misunderstood? But I don’t think I want to find out.
This type of water fairy is of Russian origin. The rusalki appear as women bathing in rivers and lakes. They’re typically not malevolent or vicious, at first, but their games can become downright frightening. You might find yourself floating facedown in the river and realizing it just before taking a deep breath. Or you might find yourself lost in the woods alongside their sacred river. The rusalki are generally feared by the Slavic people because of their torturous water games. Interestingly, before the nineteenth century, the rusalki were considered benevolent especially for fertility purposes. But after they became malicious demonic mermaid type creatures. They’re always seen with long green hair OR naked with long light brown hair. Some stories say they tickle men to death and climb trees in the Summer.
The tomtra is a type of Finnish house fairy that protects the household. When seen, he wears brown clothes and a green hat. He is similar to the Scottish brownie but a bit grumpier. If he isn’t fed or angered, he will play tricks on the home’s inhabitants. He particularly dislikes sloppiness, and the floors should be kept clean as much as possible. The tomtra likes throwing things, like small bouncy balls, paper clips, etc. You’ll find tiny objects all over the floor when he’s angry about the floor being dirty.
24. Tuatha de Danann
The Tuatha de Danann, or the People of the goddess Danu, were once the deities who ruled the country of Ireland. The Fomorians drove them into the hills, where they stay to this day. Technically, they are gods but were eventually said to be fairies. Some writers say they are “gods yet not gods”. They are an anomole. Danu, The Dagda and The Morrigan are all gods and part of the Tuatha de Danann. They feature widely in many Irish myths and sagas and modern Celtic pagans honor them in their practice. They are trooping fairies, but have every ability and opportunity to show up solitary any time any place.
The leprechaun is the most famous type of fairy from Ireland. Some folks don’t realize the leprechaun is of the faery realm…but he is! A capricious, gold-hoarding little man, find him with his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Legend says if you find him, he will grant you three wishes. The leprechaun is a solitary fairy but makes shoes for his fellow fairies. Leprechauns love gold, music, dancing, whiskey and playing pranks on humans.
26. Monaciello: A Type of Italian House Fairy
The monaciello is a type of Italian house fairy that guards the wine cellar. He wears a red, hooded cloak and likes to partake of the wine inventory. Provide him with regular wine offerings to keep him happy and he will continue to protect your wine cellar. Legend says the monaciello has a secret treasure, and if you can take his hood, you get his treasure. I don’t recommend stealing anything from a fairy, though. It won’t end well.
The Vile are Slavic fairies who are comparable to nymphs: long-haired, beautiful female elemental spirits. Some live in the air on clouds, some in the water, and some in woodlands. The Vile also resemble the Valkyries of Norse mythology in that they choose handsome strong men to assist in battle. They are shapeshifters and take the form of many animals including swans, wolves and other birds. When this type of fairy is seen, they are often seen dancing in circles in the wilderness. One must never interrupt the dance of the Vile.
Kelpies are Irish water horses and a type of fairy. They are easily distinguished from physical horses because they look wet and sometimes have seaweed caught in their mane and tail. Just like with other fairies, a kelpie’s demeanor varies by legend. Sometimes kelpies drag unsuspecting humans to the depths of the water, sometimes they aid humans.
Selkies are shapeshifting water fairies found off the coast of Scotland, namely in Orkney. These beings are similar to merpeople, but different in that they have no fish fins. Instead, they take on a seal-form when in the water and shed their seal-skins when on land. There are dozens of stories of men marrying selkie women only to have them unexpectedly return to their home in the sea. Crying seven tears into the sea will summon a male selkie to take as a lover, according to folklore.
30. Mermaids and Mermen
While some might not consider merpeople as a type of fairy, they are indeed a supernatural being of the elemental kind. So we are including them here. Mermaids and mermen have been seen all over the world and nearly every culture has their own legends about them. Theories abound as to their origins: are they spirits of the ocean? Are they hybrid human beings that somehow went a different evolutionary direction? We may never know. Most merpeople appear as half-human half-fish, typically with the bottom half of their bodies covered in fish scales and ending in fins. Mermaids and mermen are known in legend to save drowning humans OR to drown humans. They may be benevolent OR malevolent, depending on the type of mermaid and its temperament.
Giants are yet another mythical being that we believe is part of the faery realm. Just because fairies are frequently depicted as tiny creatures with wings doesn’t mean there aren’t fairies of gigantic proportions. Enter the giants and ogres of fairy tale fame. Before fairy tales, giants have been ingrained in Norse religious beliefs for thousands of years (so have elves and dwarves). Giants live in their own special realm, sometimes shown as a place in the clouds (i.e. the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk).