A Fairy Common Confusion: Fairyism and Neopaganism in the Modern World


“Fairies and the Peasant Girl” by Yuliya Litvinova

If Fairy folklorists agree on anything, it’s that the origins of the conception of the fairy draw upon many pre-Christian strands of cultural belief. In the fairy of folklore, we see the shadowy remnants of the human dead, of ancestors, of some old Pagan Gods, of some nature spirits, and so forth. There isn’t a single category or “species” of beings called fairies with their own unique origin, their own uniform appearance, fairy laws, fairy customs, fairy rulers, and fairy natures. You only get such ideas in very late, localized stories belonging to distinctive cultural regions, and only because of the creative needs (and cultural assumptions and limitations) of certain storytellers.

Anthropology and History, however, reveal a deeper perspective on the complex reality of fairies that we can’t ignore.

By the time you believe in Pagan Gods, Ancestors, and nature spirits and worship them (as most Neopagans do), you don’t need to add fairies to that mix because you already technically have them; you are already reaching out to the very beings and forces that fairies are later cultural descendants and memories of. Sticking “fairies” next to your Gods, Ancestors, and nature spirits is redundant. And blending Pagan and post-Pagan cultural lore, absent of historical context, is a recipe for disaster (or at the least metaphysical confusion.)

People in later times weren’t often consciously aware of the origins of the “fairies” they heard cultural tales about. Some places in Britain or Ireland storied the fairies one way; others storied them other ways. In some places, they are given a distinctive character: the fairies are X in appearance, X in character and temperament, and so forth. For those people, in those times and places, that’s what the fairies were. That’s what they believed.

But that’s not the whole story of “fairies”, and that can’t be taken as an authoritative pronouncement of what “fairies” are by us today. The folk tradition isn’t making theological pronouncements nor revealing a singular, orderly cosmology meant to be taken as fully-shaped and authoritative. That’s not what folk tradition does. Continue reading