The famous Lake Maidens of Wales, their name means ‘Otherwordly women’. While many fairies who make their homes in bodies of water are at best mercurial and at worst murderous, the Gwragedd Annwn have a good reputation for kindness and gentle ways. They appear as beautiful young women and are known to make good wives when they marry human men, although like many fairy wives they usually leave if the man violates a taboo relating to them.
In many stories of these Lake Maidens this taboo has to do with the husband striking the wife three times. Even if they are forced to leave their family such fairy women stay involved with their children, and one Welsh family renowned for their medical knowledge claimed it had come from a long-distant Gwragedd Annwn ancestor. The Gwragedd Annwn are strongly associated with cattle, both Earthly cows and Otherworldy ones, which may be seen as symbols of abundance and blessing.
A type of fairy found in Brittany that is less of a specific kind of being so much as a general category of beings is the Corrigan. They might be loosely compared to the generic English idea of elves as small, mischievous creatures. Corrigans are social fairies who live in groups and enjoy dancing; where they dance mushroom rings are said to appear. They wear white exclusively and are the size of young children, but look like an adult in miniature.
Corrigans can be very cruel to humans in their power and they are usually less inclined to aid people, but are not always hostile towards them and will sometimes help around homes or farms. They are nocturnal fairies and only emerge at dusk and during the night-time. In most ways they are exactly like all other Celtic fairies: they are known to steal human children, to punish those who spy on them or repeat their secrets, and to reward those who please them.
Corrigans have beautiful hair and red flashing eyes. They are sometimes described as important princesses or druidesses who were opposed to Christianity when the Apostles came to convert Brittany. They hate priests, churches, and especially the Virgin Mary. They can predict the future, change shape, and move at lightning speed.
Like sirens and mermaids, they sing and comb their long hair, and they haunt fountains and water wells. They have the power of making men fall in love with them, but they then kill the ones who do. In many popular tales, they are eager to deceive the imprudent mortals who see them dancing or looking after a treasure, and fond of stealing human children, substituting them with changelings. On the night of 31 October (Samhain), they are said to be lurking near dolmens (a megalithic tomb with a large flat stone laid on upright ones, found chiefly in Britain and France) waiting for victims.
First mentioned as a King of the Fairies in a 15th century French romance, Oberon also appeared in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream paired with the Fairy Queen Titania. In contrast other sources say his queen was Mab, and while Shakespeare described Oberon as human sized, in the French story he was the size of a toddler. This may reflect the shape-shifting powers of the fairies or the use of glamour to alter perceptions, or perhaps merely indicate the same name being used for two different Fairy Kings between cultures.
In Huon of Bordeaux, the first place Oberon appears as a Fairy King, he is described as small and deformed, yet extremely handsome, wearing a jeweled gown that glows. This Oberon carries a bow that never misses and a magical horn that cures all illnesses and acts as a cornucopia. A 16th century literary source described Oberon as tiny and said he could not bear sunlight and fled the light of day. The name Oberon is also strikingly similar to names used for familiar spirits during the Renaissance, including ‘Auberon’ and ‘Oberycom’; in this guise he was invoked as a spirit of luck and to gain power for the person calling him. This could mean that Oberon was a general term for a powerful male fairy that was later applied as a name for Fairy Kings. In that case, if we also view Diana/Titania as a similar generic name applied to a Fairy Queen there is a logic in pairing the two together.
A term found in the Shetland and Orkney Islands of Scotland, likely imported to there from Norse areas during occupation periods. Possibly a variant of the word trolls. Trow is considered roughly synonymous to other Scottish terms for fairies including sighean.
In some folklore Trows are described as very human in appearance, although they may appear old, shrivelled, or physically deformed. In other stories, however, they are described as clearly inhuman, unattractive, and twisted, even in sometimes appearing as a mix of human and horse. They are often described in unflattering terms as having oversized feet, large noses, flat faces, and short limbs. They can range in height from three to six feet depending on the story. They are often said to dress in grey, although sometimes they appear in green, red, white, or black.
It was claimed that the witches in these areas dealt with the trows, much as we see the witches in other areas dealing with fairies, and as in other areas the trows were known for shooting magical arrows that caused illness and death and for swapping changelings for beings they wanted. In Shetland the Trows prefer night time and fear the sun which traps them on earth until it sets. Like some other kinds of fairies Trows will make themselves welcome in human homes at night while the inhabitants are sleeping, coming in to sit by the fireside; they are known to dislike people who lock their doors for this reason. Trows live in mounds that are often called knowes and like other fairies they will steal humans, most often brides, and enjoy music and causing mischief.
The size of fairies is an often debated subject, yet folklore paints a clear, if varied, image of them. While modern depictions tend to favour small, childlike imagery looking at the wider scope of material we find everything from miniscule ant sized beings to gigantic fairies twice as tall (or more) than humans. The most common depictions fall into two main categories: those that are around 2 feet tall and those that are the height of an average human being.
What we find in many of the stories and ballads is that fairies look very much like human beings except that they have an aura of Otherworldliness to them or in some other intangible way project their fairy qualities. As Andrew Lang puts it:
“There seems little in the characteristics of these fairies of romance to distinguish them from human beings, except their supernatural knowledge and power. They are not often represented as diminutive in stature, and seem to be subject to such human passions as love, jealousy, envy, and revenge…The People of Peace (Daoine Shie [sic]) of Ireland and Scotland are usually of ordinary stature, indeed not to be recognized as varying from mankind except by their proceedings…” (Andrew Lang, 1910).”
Titania is a Fairy Queen who appears as an important character in Shakespeare’s play ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ written in the mid 1590’s. In the play she is the wife of the Fairy King Oberon and the two are fighting over a changeling child; because of the fight Titania is refusing her husband’s company and so he sets one of his servants out to make her fall in love with a foolish mortal as a punishment. Titania’s name connects to that of the goddess Diana, suggesting that Titania was meant to be an epithet for the well-known goddess. Diana is often associated by early modern writers with both fairies and witches so there is a certain logic to this idea. Titania’s name is not widely seen elsewhere in literature although it does appear in one magical text found in the British Museum.
Titania appears in a handful of works after Shakespeare, usually paired with Oberon or as a minor character; examples include a reference to her in Faust I and in an opera titled ‘Oberon, or the Elf King’s Oath’. Shakespeare’s Titania did not find widespread popularity in modern culture although she does either appear, or is referenced, in some video games and literature. Perhaps her most high profile modern appearance would be as the Summer Court Queen in the Dresden Files books, although she does also appear as the Queen of the Black Court in Dana Marie Bell’s ‘Grey Court’ series.
The seelie and unseelie courts of Scottish fairies are a particular feature of the folklore of that country; the clear separation of the faes into good and bad groupings that’s entailed is almost unique in folklore. Moreover, the notion of the two courts has, in recent years, attracted considerable attention and popularity- notwithstanding the fact that they are not mentioned in the majority of the Scottish faery-lore texts and collections. Probably the majority of recorded Scottish folklore relates to the Highlands and Islands, the Gaelic (and Norse) speaking regions, which may explain why we have relatively little material documenting the two courts.
The Scots word ‘seelie’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon (ge)sælig/ sællic meaning ‘happy’ or ‘prosperous.’ The evolution of the word in Middle English and Scots seems to have been in two directions. One sense was ‘pious,’ ‘worthy,’ ‘auspicious’ or ‘blessed.’ The second development extended the meaning incrementally through ‘lucky,’ ‘cheerful,’ ‘innocent,’ and ‘simple,’ from whence it was a short final step to ‘simple-minded,’ as the modern English ‘silly’ denotes. Because of this evolution, as well as because of the dialectical differences between English and Scots, it is preferable to use ‘seelie’ rather than to try to translate it. In passing, we might observe that Scots is in many cases far nearer to original Anglo-Saxon than modern English, which has imported so many French and Latin words.
By late medieval and early modern times, ‘seelie’ or ‘seely’ in Scots meant happy or peaceable, as in ‘seely wights,’ and the ‘seely court,’ which was the ‘happy or pleasant court.’ It followed from this that ‘unseelie’ or ‘unsilly’ described something that was unhappy or wretched. The poet Dunbar referred to Satan’s “unsall meyne” (his “wretched troop of followers”), a phrase which could be a very appropriate term for the fairies.
The Scots word with a variety of spellings, particularly sely, and meanings including “lucky, happy, blessed”; the adjective is applied euphemistically to fairies in Scotland. This term is used in relation to the Scottish fairies, calling them both ‘Seelie court’ and ‘gude wichts’. Court in this sense meaning a group or company, and wichts meaning beings. Seelie fairies are those who are benevolently inclined towards humans and likely to help around homes and farms. It should be remembered though that they are as able and likely to cause harm as any fairy. The use of the term Seelie in relation to fairies dates back to at least the 15th century in Scotland and can be found in a book from 1801; in the ‘Legend of the Bishop of St Androis’ it says:
Fauns are mythical creatures with both human and goat features. They are notorious for their love of the forest, music, and beautiful women, and they are generally charming to the people they encounter as they trot along their happy, woodland paths.
Fauns are a peculiar, chimeric race: half goat, half human. With horns, hairy legs, hooves, and a twitchy tail, they might not sound like the loveliest characters, but they have their own undeniable charm. You can’t help but love their faces, which combine pointy ears and a head full of woolly curls with youthful features, sparkling eyes, and a roguish smile.
Above the waist, these woodland creatures have handsome male bodies with lithe limbs. Below the waist, they have two goat legs, which make them extremely nimble dancers. While they’re not especially fond of clothing, they like to adorn themselves with crowns of leaves and berries from their woodland home, especially before one of their legendary parties.
Fauns are merry creatures, and they have a talent for brightening the hearts of others. If you are waylaid by a group of them, you can be sure that you’re not going to get away any time soon. The little creatures will lure you into their festivities with their dancing, jokes, and delicious food.
Of course, they are best known for their flute playing. With just a small, wooden flute, they can hypnotize you with fantastic melodies. Hardly anyone can resist a Faun with a flute, and in truth, the power of their flutes has led some of them to act up, luring travelers into the forest, where they get lost, or stealing the hearts of beautiful maidens away from the rest of the world.
In Greek culture, Fauns are associated with Pan, the god of shepherds, mountain wilds, meadowlands, wooded groves, fertility, and rustic music. They join Pan in his merrymaking and act as his servants when he needs aid. In return, Pan has gifted them with his trademark musical instrument, the pan-flute. Like many Greek gods, Pan was eventually handed down into Roman culture under a new name, Faunus. His troop of Fauns made this transition with him.
Fauns and satyrs are commonly confused because they have some striking similarities in appearance and personality. However, they are separate creatures. Satyrs are followers of Dionysus, the god of harvest, wine-making, and ecstasy. Like Fauns, they love music, women, and parties, but they are far less innocent than their light-hearted cousins. Satyrs are crafty creatures, and they can be downright destructive when they are bent on enjoying themselves, no matter the cost. They are also less physically charming than their woodland cousins. Their faces are less human, and their lower bodies are mightier, more like a horse or a donkey than a harmless, furry goat.
Fauns were popular characters in both Greek and Roman mythology. They are mentioned in ancient texts that describe the gods’ grandest parties, and they are frequently written into the entourage of lovers who pursue nymphs. For example, they follow in the march of Bacchus, a half-god who wandered the earth teaching men how to cultivate vineyards before making a glorious march home to Greece, and in the myth of Vertumnus and Pomona, they are competitors against Vertumnus for the beautiful Pomona’s heart.
During the Hellenistic period, the mythical revelers became popular models for statues. In some of these statues, they were portrayed without any goat-like features, appearing as soft, romantic young men with flutes or beautiful women. The most famous of these statues is the Barberini Faun, which shows a young, handsome man exhausted after a long party.
Fauns were revitalized during the Romantic period, when fairytales gained wild popularity. They were separated from the old Gods of Greek and Roman mythology and became independent, magical creatures of the forest.
One of the Romantic period’s most famous authors, Nathaniel Hawthorne, nodded to the mythical creatures with his acclaimed novel The Marble Faun, while poet Stephane Mallarme composed a masterpiece around the charming chimera with “L’apres-midi d’un Faune.” This poem later inspired both a symphony composition and a ballet.
Remarkably, Fauns have changed very little from their early Greek play-days to their appearances in modern literature. Although they seem to have gotten out from under Pan’s thumb, they still have the same rustically charming appearance, fun-loving temper, and musical talent.
Today’s most famous Faun is Mr. Tumnus, a flute-playing creature who welcomes Lucy Pevensie to the world of Narnia. Mr. Tumnus captures an age-old personality, acting both as an agent of mischief and as a kind-hearted guide for Lucy, the human girl who has captured his fancy.
The Dagda was chief of the Tuatha dé Danann, the foremost of the Irish ancestral gods or faeries. Highly skilled and wise beyond measure, he was not only the god of life and death, but of seasons, agriculture, fertility, magic, and druidry as well. He wielded three sacred treasures: a cauldron of plenty, a club of life and death, and a harp that controlled men and seasons alike.
His children were plentiful, as were his lovers. His dwelling place was Brú na Bóinne.
The Dagda often carried three sacred relics with him that defined several of his many talents:
The coire ansic, a cauldron that could produce a bountiful feast; one could never be found wanting in the company of the Dagda. This particular relic was one of the Four Treasures of the Tuatha dé Danann, which were crafted in Murias.
The lorg mór, a mighty club (or staff) that possessed two distinct powers; its head had the power to slay nine men in a single swing while its handle could revive the slain with but a touch.
The uaithne, an ornate harp carved of oak. This harp could place the seasons in the proper order and command the wills and emotions of men. With these potent abilities, the Dagda was often seen as a god of order putting everything in its place, every time in its season, and every man to their rightful action.
In additions to these items, the Dagda owned two pigs—one always growing, the other always roasting—and an orchard that bore perennial sweet fruit.
The Dagda’s primary dwelling was at Brú na Bóinne, a series of Neolithic mounds on the banks of the River Boyne in County Meath. These ancient mounds were constructed around 3200 BCE, and as such are older than famous landmarks such as Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids. A mound called Newgrange aligned with the rising sun during winter solstice, representing the Dagda’s significance as lord of seasons and his mastery over day and night.
The Lebor Gabála Érenn laid out the coming of the Tuatha dé Danann, the fifth group of settlers to arrive in mythical Ireland. This group hailed from four cities north of the Emerald Isle, where they had learned the arts and sciences of their time, including magic. At this time, the Dagda was their chief. Though he did not hold the title of king, he was consulted and respected by many as if he was one.
The Dagda was also compared to the Germanic Odin and the Roman Dis Pater, as they bore certain similarities to him.
Banshee – actually should be spelled Bean Sidhe. She’s an Irish death spirit. Their keening fortells a death. They have very long, flowing hair and wear green dresses with grey cloaks. Their eyes are bright red because of their continuous weeping; or Benshee – an Irish faery attached to a house. Common name for the Irish Bean Sidhe. In Scotland the banshee is known as caoineag (wailing woman) also Bean-Nighe and, although seldom seen, she often heard in the hills and glens, by lakes or running water.
Bean Sidhe – In Irish folklore, the Bean Sidhe (woman of the hills) is a spirit or fairy who presage a death by wailing. She is popularly known as the Banshee. She visits a household and by wailing she warns them that a member of their family is about to die. When a Banshee is caught, she is obliged to tell the name of the doomed. The antiquity of this concept is vouched for by the fact that the Morrigan, in a poem from the 8th century, is described as washing spoils and entrails. It was believed in County Clare that Richard the Clare, the Norman leader of the 12th century, had met a horrible beldame, washing armor and rich robes “until the red gore churned in her hands”, who warned him of the destruction of his host. The Bean Sidhe has long streaming hair and is dressed in a gray cloak over a green dress. Her eyes are fiery red from the constant weeping. When multiple Banshees wail together, it will herald the death of someone very great or holy. The Scottish version of the Banshee is the Bean Nighe. Aiobhill is the banshee of the Dalcassians of North Munster, and Cliodna is the banshee of the MacCarthys and other families of South Munster.
Bean-Nighe – pronounced “ben-neeyah”; type of Banshee around streams in Scotland and Ireland. She washed bloodstained clothing of people who will soon die. They are rumored to be the ghosts of women who died in childbirth and will continue to wash until the day they should have died. The Washer at the Ford.