The chief characters in Irish mythology are the Tuatha De Danann. In times of old, these mystical people were often referred to as the Faery. However, the term faery (or, more commonly, fairy) usually brings to mind diminutive little creatures with tiny little wings flitting about the garden. This image, while a part of the Faery Lineage in Ireland, does not represent all that the Faery were.
Who Are the Faery?
The traditional understanding in Ireland was that the Faery were independent beings living in an immaterial state. They were close to humanity, but not a part of it. They were considered to have a kingdom all their own, and they only seldom made themselves known in the physical world.
They were beings with the ability to change their shape at will, made of light and cloud, and so always fluid. Over time, with the changing beliefs of the people of Ireland, the Faery underwent many alterations, from the powerful and awe-inspiring Tuatha De Danann down to the classic Folk Tale Fairy. As this happened, the Faery Lineage was born.
The Faery Lineage of Ancient Times
Up to the Middle Ages of Western Europe, the development of the Faery was almost completely confined to the land of Ireland and its people. There was a great focus on heroism, magick, and romance.
The Tuatha De Danann are the source of the entire Lineage. They were the gods of the people of Ireland, and are considered to be the most superior and pure form of the Faery. They were at their most powerful during the Mythological Cycle. This group eventually branched into two very distinct groups: the Fenian Heroes and the Daoine Sidhe.
The Fenian Heroes were among the most notable heroes in all of Ireland, existing during the Fenian Cycle. Many of them were descendants of the Tuatha De Danann, and some of them were the De Danann themselves. Many of the Fay served as a part of the fiana, and the Fenian Heroes were not considered to be all that far removed from mortal man.
The Daoine Sidhe existed in about the same time period as the Fenian Heroes. However, these were the Tuatha De Danann who truly did remain removed from humanity, who preserved the purest form of Faery magick, and who were still worshipped as the gods of the Irish pantheon. Eventually, however, even the Daoine Sidhe had to change and adapt.
The Heroic Faery was born out of the Daoine Sidhe. These were the ladies and knights of classic medieval romances, the heroes of the great tales of the era, and were very much like the Fenian Heroes. In fact, it could be said that the only difference between the Fenian Heroes and the Heroic Faery is the time period in which they existed in mythology.
Meanwhile, the Fenian Heroes had become the Medieval Faery. These characters were practiced in magick and sorcery. It is here when the first outside influences begin to creep into Irish mythology. No longer are the Faery the powerful and frightening Tuatha De Danann. They are no longer gods. Instead, they begin to grow smaller in size, and with the coming of Christianity, they are sometimes assumed to be evil.
The Heroic Faery makes one last appearance, merging with the Medieval Faery and becoming the Diminutive Fairy.
Fairies in the Middle Ages and Beyond
With the birth of the Middle Ages, the traditional image of the modern fairy was born. The Diminutive Fairy became connected to death and the departed. Sometime in the 16th century, the idea of the literary fairy is introduced. These fairies are nasty little things, demanding their privacy and pinching those who dare to invade it.
The Elizabethan Age brings about another change in the fairy. Instead of a nasty little thing intent on its privacy, the Elizabethan Fairy is mischievous and bothersome, but not particularly evil. These fairies tend to irritate more than harm.
In the 17th century, the Jacobean Fairy makes an appearance. They are so small that they are difficult to see with the naked eye. These little guys have gossamer wings and, purely due to Puritan influences, are regarded as demons or devils.
The 18th century saw a reversal of this idea. The fairies of this era were flowery little fertility spirits. These little Flower Fairies were said to flit and fly in the most beautiful gardens, entertaining children and delighting anyone who chanced to see them. This version of the fairy is still very much a part of modern folk tales.
The 19th century saw the development of the Folk Tale Fairy. These characters were written into stories created for children, and generally featured characters such as the classic fairy godmother. These creatures were relentless moralists. Like the Flower Fairy, the Folk Tale Fairy has persisted into the modern era.
With the coming of the 20th century, the Age of Faery seemed to have truly come to an end. The gods of Ireland had become no more than fairy tales, and most had forgotten they were ever anything more. However, this same century brought about a renewed interest in ancient religions and beliefs, and today, there are those who have resurrected the ancient Faery Faith in a more modern incarnation, with the inclusion of the Elemental Faery.
Welcome to the Order of the Sacred Star! This Pagan/Wiccan group, based in Winnipeg, Canada, is committed to teaching the Craft to all those who wish to learn. Our goal is to provide a complete and fulfulling learning experience. Our public classes are offered through the Winnipeg Pagan Teaching Circle.