Classifications of fairies

In mythology and folklore, fairies are classified in a variety of ways.

Two of the most prominent categories, derived from Scottish folklore, are the division into the Seely Court and the Unseely Court. William Butler Yeats, in Irish Fairy and Folk Tales, further divided them into the Trooping Fairies and the Solitary Fairies.

These categories are generally applied to any fairy-type creature, from elves, pixies and brownies to ogres and giants.

Contents

Seelie and Unseelie

Etymology

The words "seely" (with other forms being seily, seelie and sealy) and "unseely" are Scots, Northern and Middle English terms meaning "happy", "lucky" or "blessed" and "unhappy", "misfortunate" and "unholy" respectively. They are derived from the Old English sœl and gesœlig[1][2]. The Modern Standard English word silly is also derived from this root and the term "seely" is recorded in numerous works of Middle English literature such as those by Geoffrey Chaucer. Many ballads and tales tell of "Seely wights"; a Lowlander term for fairies[1]. In Wales there were said to be two fairies or elves called Silly Frit and Sili go Dwt whose names represent a borrowing of the adjective silly (in this case meaning happy) as applied to fantastical beings from its usage on the English marches bordering Wales rather than the Anglo-Scottish border; the former name being purely English while the latter is a corruption of English fairy names featuring "tot" (such as Tom Tit Tot) as an element[3].

Seelie and Unseelie Courts

The Seelie court are known to seek help from humans, to warn those who had accidentally offended them, and to return human kindness with favors of their own. Still, a fairy belonging to this court will avenge insults and could be prone to mischief.[4] The most common time of day to see them is twilight.[5] The Unseelie Court consists of the malicious and evilly-inclined fairies. Unlike the Seelie Court, no offense is necessary to bring down their assaults.[6] As a group (or "host"), they appear at night and assault travelers, often carrying them through the air, beating them, and forcing them to commit such acts as shooting elfshot at cattle.[7][8] Like the beings of the Seely Court who are not always benevolent, neither are the fairies of the Unseelie Court always malevolent. However, when forced to choose, they will always prefer to harm—rather than to help—humans. Some of the most common characters in the Unseelie Court are Bogies, Bogles, Boggars, Abbylubbers and Buttery spirits.[9] The division into "seely" and "unseely" spirits was roughly equivalent to the division of Elves in Norse mythology, into "light" and "dark" distinctions[10].

In the French fairy tales of précieuses, fairies are likewise divided into good and evil, but the effect is clearly literary.[11] Many of these literary fairies seem preoccupied with the character of the humans they encounter.[12]

The Welsh fairies, Tylwyth Teg, and the Irish Sídhe are usually not classified as wholly good or wholly evil.[13]

Trooping and Solitary Fairies

Yeats divided fairies into the solitary and trooping fairies, as did James Macdougall in Folk Tales and Fairy Lore. Katharine Mary Briggs noted that a third distinction might be needed for "domesticated fairies" who live in human households, but such fairies might join with other fairies for merry-making and fairs.[14]

The trooping fairies contain the aristocracy of the fairy world, including the Irish Daoine Sídhe.[7] They are known as trooping faeries because they travel in long processions, such as the one from which Tam Lin was rescued.[15] But the trooping fairies also include other fairies of lesser importance; a trooping fairy can be large or small, friendly or sinister.[16]

Unlike the trooping fairies, solitary fairies live alone and are inclined to be wicked and malicious creatures, except for beings such as the brownie who is said to help with household chores.[17]

Changelings

A Changeling is said to be a faerie that is exchanged for a human child, although the term can refer to the child who was taken. Usually (though not always) as a prank or an act of vengeance. Fairies are said to make this exchange if the human child's parents have caused the faerie world a serious offence, or if the fae have been attacked in some way by the parents. Rarely are children taken because the faerie is in love with it, though that is a possibility. Most modern stories indicate that the exchange is performed as a means of vengeance, and it is almost never depicted as a generous act.

On some occasions instead of a faerie child being left the faeries will leave a doll made of sticks and grass that is glamoured to look like a human child. These are called fetches and usually have a very short life span. Faeries will also sometimes take people who are older into their realm. Usually they do this if a specific quality about the person catches their eye.

Once in the faerie realm, humans are usually made servants. Since time passes differently in Arcadia, their faerie master determines how quickly they age. As children they usually just play while the faeries watch. When they are older they may be made a handservant, and entertainer, a lover, or even an ornament.

The magic of the faerie world changes the nature of the humans taken there so that, even if they do manage to escape, they are no longer fully human. The type of change that happens to them depends on who their master was and what they did while in the faerie realm. They almost always have a weak to intermediate grasp of faerie magic when they leave, with the ability to glamour and do other things.

Methods of supposedly repelling faeries included leaving an open pair of iron scissors on the baby's bed. The symptoms of a changeling includes unpleasant traits in the body, paleness, a green tint, bad temper, and/or a voracious appetite. "Positive" traits include an extensive vocabulary at a young age, which signified the changeling's intelligence. Children suspected to be changelings were persecuted and/or murdered, and those responsible were rarely blamed or punished.

Some[who?] speculate that the reasons faeries want to swap their children with human babies is because they want to be baptized, and consequently possess protection from things like trolls.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b http://www.dsl.ac.uk/getent4.php?plen=5690&startset=35378484&query=SEIL&fhit=seely&dregion=entry&dtext=snd#fhit
  2. ^ http://www.dsl.ac.uk/getent4.php?plen=1097&startset=45177241&query=UNSEELY&fhit=seely&dregion=entry&dtext=snd#fhit
  3. ^ Celtic folklore: Welsh and Manx, Volume 1, John Rhys, Forgotten Books, 1983, ISBN 1605061700, 9781605061702. pp. 469-470
  4. ^ Briggs, Katharine Mary (1976) 'An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Boogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures. New York, Pantheon Books. "Seelie Court", p.353. ISBN 0-394-73467-X
  5. ^ Froud, Brian and Lee, Alan (1978) Faeries. New York, Peacock Press/Bantam. ISBN 0-553-01159-6
  6. ^ Briggs (1976) p.419
  7. ^ a b Froud and Lee (1978)
  8. ^ Silver, Carole G. (1999) Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness. Oxford University Press. p.174 ISBN 0-19-512199-6
  9. ^ Briggs (1979)
  10. ^ Merriam-Webster's encyclopedia of literature, Merriam-Webster, 1995,ISBN 0877790426, 9780877790426. pp.371
  11. ^ Briggs, K.M. (1967) The Fairies in English Tradition and Literature. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. p.108
  12. ^ Briggs (1967) p.177
  13. ^ Evans-Wentz, W. Y. (1966, 1990) The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. New York, Citadel p.167 ISBN 0-8065-1160-5
  14. ^ Briggs (1967) p.412
  15. ^ Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
  16. ^ Briggs (1976) p.412
  17. ^ Briggs (1976) "Solitary Fairies" p.412

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