From the Latin term for “fate” (fata), faeries (or fairies) are a “host of supernatural beings and spirits who occupy a limbo between earth and heaven” (Guiley 1989 117). Faeries could be either good or evil creatures, and at various points in history have been confused with witches.
Fay or fey is the archaic term for faerie meaning bewitched or enchanted. The state of enchantment is fayerie, which became fairy and faerie.
In an attempt to save their own lives, many accused European witches claimed to have been taught their arts by faeries. These witches believed that faerie-taught craft may not be seen as malevolent as that taught by the Devil. However, the clergy conveniently allied faeries with the Devil.
Several theories exist for the origins of faeries:
- Faeries are tiny humans. There is some evidence small-statured races occupied part of Europe in the Bronze Age and Neolithic periods before the population by the Celts. Known at the Thuatha de Danaan in Ireland, they lived in shelters burrowed under mounds and hills. As more aggressive races migrated into their territories, these secretive little people retreated into the forests. However, some possibly maintained a guerilla warfare against the newcomers, giving rise to the legends of Rob Roy and Robin Hood.
- Faeries are nature spirits. Faeries were believed to be some of the spirits which populate all places and objects on Earth.
- Faeries are fallen angels. In the lore of Scandinavia, Scotland, and Ireland, when God cast Lucifer and his angels from heaven, God raised His hand and stopped them in mid-fall. These angels were condemned to remain where they were, becoming the faeries of seas and rivers, the earth, and the air.
- Faeries are the souls of dead pagans. Since the pagans are unbaptized, they are neither considered good enough to go to heaven nor bad enough to go to hell. They are therefore caught in a netherworld, becoming faeries (Guiley 1989 117).
- Faeries are the children of Adam and Lilith. In the folklore of Norway, faeries, or tusse, are the children of Adam and Lilith (Odegaard).
- Faeries are the hidden children of Adam and Eve. In Norse folklore, Eve went on to have a multitude of children after Cain, Abel, and Seth. She had so many children, even in her years in which women stop bearing, that she was ashamed. When God asked to meet all her children, she brought out a flock of them, but left quite a few behind because she was embarassed. God understood, but felt hurt, and he said the children she was hiding from him would always be hidden from her. The missing children were then transformed into faeries, or haug-folk (Skar).