The Various Types of Fairies Around the World
For Those Who Believe...
For those who believe in the wee folk, the good folk, or the fairies, we get to see a very magical side of the Earth that most do not. To believe is to see. Our ancestors in Europe were so familiar with the fairies that they left offerings out on a daily basis. When the Catholic Church began to spread its faith throughout Europe, our ancestors were told to not feed the fairies, that in fact it was unlawful to engage with the fairies. If this was an actual law, someone must have believed in the fairies.
Now there are a few of us who are bringing back the fairy faith that our ancestors began centuries ago. But there are so many different types of fairies, how do we identify one from another? Let's learn how to categorize the types of fairies according to the Scottish/English way first introduced on paper by W.B. Yeats.
The Seelie Court and Unseelie Court
First, we can break down the various types of fairies into two groups: the Seelie Court and the Unseelie Court.
The Seelie Court can be considered the "good" fairies, and the Unseelie Court the "bad" fairies. The word Seelie is actually translated to mean something close to silly. The Seelie Court fairies were thought to be good as they did not usually interfere in a negative way with the local humans (our ancestors in Scotland/England/Ireland and elsewhere). These were the fairies who liked to help the Earth and its plants and trees grow and remain strong. They also enjoyed dancing and partying in their own fairy way.
The Unseelie Court were considered the trouble-making and sometimes downright vicious fairies. These were the types of fairies who would lead an unsuspecting and curious human to a cliff and to their deaths in legend. These are the types of fairies who would steal a human child and replace it with one of their own...a changeling. They are embittered towards humans and want nothing more than to be left alone or to rid the Earth of humans who do not appreciate it.
Some of the Seelie Court fairies include:
- irish sea water guardians
- the grant
- robin goodfellow
- willow wisps (will o' the wisp)
- lady of the lake
Some of the Unseelie Court fairies include:
- banshee (though some consider the banshee to actually be good)
These are just a few of each category, as there are actually hundreds of types of fairies worldwide.
Further Categorized by Solitary and Trooping
In addition to classifying types of fairies by their nature of "good" or "bad", there is another way to further identify types of fairies. This is by identifying whether they are solitary fairies or trooping fairies.
Solitary fairies are simply fairies that live or travel mostly alone. For some reason in Scottish and English folklore, many of the Unseelie Court fairies were also solitary fairies...so there is more of a negative connotation around solitary fairies because of this. However, solitary fairies can sometimes be "good" or be a part of the Seelie Court. An example of this overlapping of categories is the Scottish brownie. The Scottish brownie is a well-known house fairy that will take up residence in a well-deserving family's home and help the family with un-done chores and tasks around the house. As one can see, this would make the Scottish brownie a "good" fairy and so is typical of the Seelie Court. But the brownie also lives and works by himself and not with any other fairies, so he is considered a solitary fairy.
Trooping fairies are fairies that live or travel mostly in groups. Typically, the Seelie Court fairies travel in groups and therefore are usually sub-typed as trooping fairies. Trooping fairies used to be seen all over Scotland, England, and Ireland in the old days. They would ride their tiny horses over the hills and into the woods, and the peasantry knew their "fairy raides" (rides) very well. This is how they got to be classified as trooping fairies...because they moved in troops. Examples of trooping fairies include: pixies, ballybogs, selkies, merrows, elves, gnomes, and more. Sometimes Unseelie Court fairies would travel in groups, though this was rare to see as usually the "bad" fairies were so rotten they couldn't stand the presence of anyone other than themselves.
An even easier way to classify types of fairies is to assign them to one of the four elements—earth, air, fire, or water. There is a theory that fairies are indeed elemental beings, that they are the ancient spirits of nature and therefore could easily be categorized as such.
Earth Fairies might include: dwarves, ballybogs, gnomes, the oakmen, sand fairies, Robin Goodfellow, Donas de Fuera.
Water Fairies might include: merrows, selkies, kelpies, menehuna, Lady of the Lake, the pooka, undines.
Air Fairies might include: pixies, sprites, will o' the wisps, spriggans, sylphs.
Fire Fairies might include: salamanders, drakes, djinn, akamu, spunkies.
No Matter the Classification...Fairies Are Here
No matter how you decide it is easiest to classify the fairies, you will never truly capture their essence by putting them into a group. I believe that is a part of the beauty of the fairies in that you can never truly understand them...not with typical human logic, anyway.
Fairies are beings who have been around as long as humans have been on this Earth, and perhaps even longer. Their legends permeate almost every culture in the world, and they still live on to this day.
So are they the spirits of nature? Are they gods of old? Or are they beings who live on a different dimension...a different plane of existence altogether?
Tell me what you think about fairies...and about the different types of fairies.
Take the Fairy Types Quiz:view quiz statistics
Questions & Answers
© 2013 Nicole Canfield