Fairies are really trendy in pop culture right now. Especially if you’re a consumer of fairy tales or young-adult fantasy novels. Books Such as Holly Black’s Folk of Air Trilogy and Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series are all over BookTok and Instagram, and only getting more popular.
Really though, Fae or fairies have been very popular for a while now with movies like The Labyrinth and Lord of the Rings holding a revered spot in every fantasy lover’s heart.
These series are amazing but with such a big scope of what fae or the fair folk are, we usually see elves and sprites depicted in media, so what are some other fae? Let’s talk about some of the most well-known types of fairies and what one you would be if you were a fairy.
A little disclaimer, there are hundreds of different types of fairies all over the world. In this article, I will focus on European folklore and the types of fae there. I am slowly learning more about fairies in other parts of the world so maybe I’ll write part two once I feel more knowledgeable about them. As someone who consumes fantasy, though, please remember that Fae are not exclusively European.
What are Faeries?
Faeries are known by many names such as fay, fae, fey, fair folk, or faerie. They are often described as mythical creatures with supernatural abilities, usually originating from nature, in folklore.
Because the fae are derived from so many different cultures and their stories have shifted with time, it is hard to create an all-encompassing definition without being super general. This makes it easier to describe them by just sharing general information about them.
Where the fae live is up for debate but the most commonly accepted explanation is that they are from the Otherworld, which is a whole ’nother can of worms. They simply can shift between where we can see them and where we cant. An easy way to think of them is that they are nature spirits, so their powers are nature-based as well. You could also describe them as supernatural-like spirits that can live to be infinite years old.
Just keep in mind that fae are not always hominin in appearance, and are often tricksters.
The Fae Courts
There are two different types of fae courts Seelie Fae and Unseelie Fae.
Seelie Fae are usually part of a large court that enjoys revels and are generally more good-natured. These are the fae that are sometimes willing to work with humans.
Unseelie Fae are their own court, but are seen as more malevolent in nature and generally hate humans. They are much more antisocial.
There is also the Trooping and Solitary fae. Trooping fae travel in bands or small groups and enjoy song and dance. Solitary Fae are just that, solitary.
It is important that you don‘t label any of them as good or bad, fae are their own beings and unable to be subjected to human judgment.
Types of Faeries
Brownies are elusive fae that live within your home, doing simple tasks around the house. They usually appear to have brown hair and skin, hence their name. These fae do not like to be seen by human eyes and therefore only come out at night and avoid human contact. They are even rumored to be capable of going invisible. Brownies are not bad in nature, but as with all fae, you should try to avoid upsetting them. House Elves in the Harry Potter universe are similar to brownies.
Sprite/ Pixie/ Fairy
These are the fae you are probably the most familiar with from your childhood. They are small and sometimes winged (Pixies and Fairies are usually winged). Though they are small, they range in size but all have a trickster nature to them. Despite that they are all considered to be good fae. Fairies usually take on aspects of nature wither that be a time of year, or a environment such as woodlands. One of the most popular fairies is the well beloved Disney character, Tinker Bell.
Fauns are humanoids with goat-like legs, hooves and a human upper body. They are gifted musicians and love to party and dance. They are usually friendly but will lure people to dance until exhaustion and make people fall in love with them. They have a care free nature and therefore not prone to violence. They can be extremely charming and cleanse you of any worries or bad thoughts. Satyrs and Fauns are different but tend to get grouped together.
Nixies are water spirits that are bound to fresh water pools. They protect these pools and if anything happens to their water source it also harms them. They are often depicted with legs, not a tail like merfolk, with smooth green skin. Nixies are usually friendly with people and love to observe and visit them since they cannot travel themselves. They are gifted in playing music and can lure you in with the sound of it.
Gnome is an overarching word for a large variety of fae. Gnomes are small and live all over the world from gardens to woodlands. They prefer not to interact with humans but love to tell stories so will compromise to do so. Despite their small stature gnomes are stronger and faster than humans. Gnomes value gems and fine jewelry, with some specializing in making valuable jewelry themselves. They are also reported to be jokesters and love to pull what they view as harmless pranks.
Dwarves resemble humans but are shorter and sturdier in stature. They usually live in mines under the earth or in mountains. Dwarves are considered to be one of the friendlier fae and they more commonly interacted with humans. This was partly due to their craftsmanship capabilities, which make their goods highly valued. Humans have always been eager to make exchanges with them.
When we think of leprechauns we usually think of a very theatrical version of them in all green and with a pot of gold. Leprechauns are actually wonderful craftsman and usually work as leather workers, tailors and tool makers. They do love the earnings that they make from their craftwork and will fiercely defend it. They are devilishly witty and use their intelligence rather than violence to get their way.
Elves are often described as humanoids with super natural beauty and power. They are immortal and maintain an eternally youthful appearance. Elves are elusive and usually do not like to interact with humans, but when they do there is no guarantee that they will be friendly despite being viewed as generally good beings. Different types of elves are in folklore all over the globe and stories of them can be found far and wide.
Changelings are fae that are left in the place of human babies that the fae have stolen. They will usually steal the persons identity only to be raised unknowingly as the human’s own child. These fae were so feared in Europe that people came up with various precautions against them, and ways to discover if babies were actually fae. The most famous of these methods is poking a child with an iron rod, since the fae hate iron this would cause them to reveal themselves.
Dryads are nymphs’’ bound to the forest to protect it. Usually they are bound to one tree. Originally Dryads were bound to oaks exclusively but eventually all tree nymphs’’ are now referred to as dryads. They appear as beautiful young women and come from Greek origins, but are not confined to there. There are many different types that are bound to different trees. These fae are shy yet powerful but as a spirit of a tree they are bound to it. The fate of the tree is also their fate.
Dullahan come from Irish folklore and are unseelie fairies with malevolent intentions. They are usually depicted as horsemen or horsewomen without heads. Dullahan have the ability to pass any lock or get past any barrier. They are bringers of death so seeing them is always a bad omen. Dullahan can use their disembodied heads to see and speak. The only defense against them is precious metals, which they fear.
Selkies are a type of merfolk that can change from human to seal. They do so by shedding their seal skin, but in order to turn back they need to use the skin again. Because of this their skin is extremely valuable and protected when they are not using it. Most selkie folklore is based around men falling in love with them and stealing their skin so they cannot return to the sea.
Fairies in Pop Culture
Faeries have been popularly depicted in the media since people started sharing news with each other. The fae went from mysterious and feared to having decorations of them lining children’s walls.
Disney probably has the most iconic fairy of all time, Tinker Bell. She first appeared in Peter Pan as a somewhat side character, but has since risen above all the other Disney fairies and even most Disney princesses in popularity. She is in the opening credits of most Disney films, trailing pixie dust across the screen, but has also received her own series, movies and games. In these we meet a whole new cast of faeries who live in Pixie Hollow and work together to achieve magical tasks.
Of course there are other Disney characters that we don’t view as faeries, but actually are. Maleficent for one is an “evil fairy” and in the new live action Maleficent film you get to see an interpretation of an array of different fae.
Another great example of fae in popular culture is all of the magical creatures in Harry Potter. There’s the standard pixies and fairies, but other less known fae such as brownies (House elves) and the boggarts. Some might even say that almost everyone in Harry Potter is a type of fae from a witch to the sorting hat.
There are countless other fairies that have achieved main stream popularity. Some examples are Bloom in Winx Club, The Tooth Fairy, Glinda in the Wizard of Oz, and The Fairy Godmother.
So now that you know a little more about fae which one do you think you’ll be?
What Kind of Fairy are You?
This quiz will tell you which of the 12 fae you are most like from above. Click below to start quiz.