The name given to a wide variety of mythologicaly supernatural beings that either help or hinder mankind.
Fairy beliefs are strongest in the Celtic lore of Britain, Ireland and Europe, but nearly every culture possesses myths and legends concerning miniature biped creatures.
The word Fairy is derived from the Latin fata, fate', which refers to the mythical Fates, three women who spin and control the threads of life.
According to theory, fairies are either: earthbound unbaptized souls; guardians of the souls of the dead; ghosts of venerated ancestors; fallen angels condemned to remain on earth; nature spirits, or small human beings.
Fairies are said to have magical powers and to consort with witches and other humans with supernatural powers. They have many different names and come in all shapes and sizes. They are invisible and can only be seen by clairvoyants or when they make themselves visible.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was deeply interested in spiritualism and psychic phenomena. In the early 1920s he was fooled by a photograph purporting to show tiny, winged, female figures dressed in fashionable gowns and floating in the air. The picture was taken by two young sisters, Elsie and Francis Wright, of Cottingley, Yorkshire. The girls insisted the photograph was genuine, and despite expert testimony that the picture was a fake, Doyle wrote about the picture as proof of fairies in his The Coming of the Fairies (1922). The Wright sisters did not admit that the photo was a fraud until the 1980s.
The Neoplatonic Greeks categorized fairies, or nature spirits, according to the four elements: Earth elementals are gnomes; Air elementals are sylphs; Water elementals are undines; and Fire elementals are salamanders.
In the Middle Ages interest in these main groups was revived and alchemists and magicians sought to control and manipulate the forces of nature and the universe.
Other types of fairies or elementals include elves, who live in the woods, and household spirits such as brownies, goblins and bogies.
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Sources: (1) Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, Harper Collins Publishers; (2) Rose, Carol, Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins: An Encyclopedia, W. W. Norton & Company; (3) Briggs, Katherine, An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures, Pantheon Books.
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