There isn’t a cut and dried definition of “fairy”. In some places, fairy refers to an ethereal, human-like creature with no empathy. In others, fairy is a catch-all term that encompasses trolls, goblins, banshees, gnomes, brownies, dryads, leprechauns, redcaps, buccas, elves, mermaids, trolls, and others.
For the sake of simplicity, this article is about the former definition, although you can certainly work the latter definition into your world; I’ve read several books that use the all-encompassing definition to great effect (psst read The Dresden Files psst).
Origin, Appearance, and Powers
Fairies supposedly kept the wild places in the world before humanity entered the picture. Humanity defeated or warded them away with iron, so the fairies became weaker, but still a force to be reckoned with. In some tales, they live on Earth. In others, they live in another plane or dimension that humans can rarely enter. Tales of fairies also came from religions predating Christianity. Fairies differ in their description: sometimes they are dead, gods, demigods, spirits, or halfway-fallen angels. Many sources believe fairies traded their souls to the Devil in return for their powers, making fairies as a whole soulless. Christian scholars also classified fairies as “too good for Hell, too bad for Heaven”.
The first fairies appearing in folklore resembled contemporary versions of elves more than Tinker Bell: tall, beautiful, and even angelic-seeming. The first descriptions of trolls - classified as a kind of fairy - named them as short and wizened. Small fairies often appear in folklore, their size ranging from minuscule to that of a human child. The earliest fairies did not have wings, although they could fly with magic. Small fairies sometimes rode birds.
Fairies had the power to fly, cast spells, and foresee the future. They also had the ability to cast powerful glamours or illusions that could trick mortal minds into seeing anything.
Seelie fairies will seek help from humans and return human kindness with that of their own. They play lighthearted pranks and quickly forget their sorrows. They will not show remorse when they realize the negative effects of their machinations. Seelie appear most often near twilight. You must offend them to bring down their wrath. Seelie are the nicer of the two fairies. They are also called “The Golden Ones” and “The Light Court”. The Seelie Court is closely associated with spring and summer.
The Unseelie appear at night as a group. They attack anyone they come across, often by carrying them through the air, beating them, and forcing the them to kill cattle. Some Unseelie can be fond of a human who respects Unseelie culture. However, this human ends up as a pet rather than a friend. The Unseelie Court is closely associated with winter and autumn.
Iron burns them. Rowan repels them. Fairies must keep promises they repeat three times (or just promises they make).
Go to YouTube.
Watch Bob Ross.
Listen to him talk about painting.
Seriously, this guy… this guy is full of advice for a writer who’s having trouble getting started.
He’s not writing, he’s painting, but… okay, like, he can sit there and talk about geology and the diffusion of light and make it clear that he knows what a mountain is and he knows what goes into the interplay of light and perspective, and then you’ll watch him smear some black paint on top of a still wet canvas with a thin metal wedge, and then take a brush and push it downwards so that it mixes with the base in such a way that it ends up lighter at the bottom and eventually just fades into the background.
And then he’ll take some titanium white paint and do the same thing to add snow and light, and you’re thinking… “But… interplay. Geology. Perspective.” and he’s just pushing paint around, talking about figuring out where the north slope lives and how there are no mistakes, just happy little accidents and then he steps back at the end and holy moly, it looks like he painted a mountain.
It doesn’t look like he pushed paint around for ten minutes, it looks like he looked at a real mountain somewhere and copied it.
Is there a real mountain that matches the painting? No. Could he use this method to exactly replicate an actual mountain? No. But he made a mountain that looks real enough, and even if he didn’t have 100% control over the final look of it, he conjured it out of his imagination.
This is the trick that more writers need to learn. It’s possible to create a story or even a whole book through meticulous planning and careful construction, but… most people can’t do that. It’s not that we’re not willing to put in the work, it’s just too easy to get stuck. Too easy to never leave the “Well, I’m still worldbuilding/researching” stage. Too easy to write oneself into a corner or get bogged down in the details.
So this is my advice today for fiction writers:
Learn how to speed paint.
Learn how to work wet on wet.
Learn how to push paint around on the edge of a knife.
Learn how to figure out where things want to live by feel and how to allow for happy little accidents.
There will be places for fine details and intricate sketches. But when you’re staring at a blank canvas and you have no idea where to start… paint the whole thing blue and start scraping up some mountains.
Quick, broad strokes. That’s all it takes to get you started. Quick, broad strokes and a few happy accidents.
Reblogging for myself.
Immortality and the origin of death is one of the most popular topics of stories from around the world, actually. Often immortality is or can be conferred on average humans by eating or drinking a rare and special kind of food or beverage.
In the Islamic world you have the four immortals, including Khidir, the Green Man, who drank from the water of life and became immortal. Khidir’s tale shares some factors in common with the story of The Wandering Jew. You can read more about him and the other immortals here.
In China you have the Covert Eight Immortals:
whose power can be transferred to tools an used to destroy evil ro bestow life; as well as the Eight Immortal Scholars of Huainan, or the Eight Gentlemen, who aren’t deified or made supernatural in any way, as their “immortality” is a metaphor but I think that’s a fun play for fiction. As well as Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who famously spent much of his life searching for an elixir of immortality.
There are a fair amount of Native American tales that deal with this topic, too. The Boy Who Would Be Immortal is a Hočąk story, with analogues in Macmac, Menominee, and Potawotami, with their theme of fasting. If you plan to include immortals that blend with supernatural tales, Wendigo are certainly immortal (humans become Wendigo by breaking taboos or committing terrible crimes), as are Skin Walkers in Navajo legend.
In Vietnam, Hang Nga and Hau Nghe are made immortal by eating a special type of grass. Separate from this, you have the Vietnamese Four Immortals: the giant boy Thánh Gióng, mountain god Tản Viên Sơn Thánh,Chử Đồng Tử the marsh boy, and the princess Liễu Hạnh.
In both Hindu and Buddhist tales, the elixir of immortality is guarded jealously by the gods and Garuda, the mythological bird person, plays a very important role in these kind of stories in Southeast Asia.
There’s a Yoruban tale about Oba Koso or Shango, who was forced to commit suicide by political intrigue but did not hang; The demigod Maui has many stories his quests involving immortality for himself and others in Tonga, New Zealand, Samoa, and many other Pacific Islands.
Also keep in mind, even if you’re going to allow Greek or Roman immortals to dominate your story-not all Greek or Roman immortals were white people. A notable exception is Memnon, an African (Ethiopian and/or Sudanese) king, who was killed by Achilles and mourned so deeply by Eos, his mother, that Zeus was moved to grant him immortality.
I highly encourage anyone else to add their favorite stories about immortality to this post!!!
I can think of a Palestinian Jew who proved immortal in the folk literature of the time.
Isa, or Jesus, is included in the literature on the four Islamic Immortals above. You gotta click the links!
Ok. I’m tired of the typical vampire, werewolf and fairy.I’m also tired of the occidental-centrism in mythology. Hence, this list.
I tried to included as many cultural variants as I could find and think of. (Unfortunately, I was restricted by language. Some Russian creatures looked very interesting but I don’t speak Russian…) Please, add creatures from your culture when reblogging (if not already present). It took me a while to gather all those sites but I know it could be more expansive. I intend on periodically editing this list.
Of note: I did not include specific legendary creatures (Merlin, Pegasus, etc), gods/goddesses/deities and heroes.
The Ancient Dragon (Egypt, Babylon and Sumer)
Of the Cockatrice (creature with the body of a dragon)
Alphabetical List of Dragons Across Myths (Great way to start)
- Little creatures (without wings)
- Creatures with wings (except dragons)
Bendith Y Mamau (Welsh fairies)
Peri (Persian fairies)
Yü Nü (Chinese fairies)
Garuda (Bird-like creature in Hindu and Buddhist myths)
Bean Nighe (a Scottish fairy; the equivalent of a banshee in Celtic mythology)
- Spirited Creatures
Jinn (Genies in Arabic folklore)
Oni (demons in Japanese folklore)
Demons in the Americas (list)
European Demons (list)
Middle-East and Asia Demons (list)
Judeo-Christian Demons (list)
Mahaha (a demon in Inuit mythology)
Flying Head (a demon in Iroquois mythology)
Toyol (a dead baby ghost in Malay folklore)
Yuki-onna (a ghost in Japanese folklore)
The Pontianak (a ghost in Malay mythology)
Funayurei (a ghost in Japanese folklore)
Zagaz (ghosts in Moroccan folklore)
- Horse-like mythical creatures
The Kelpie (Could have also fitted in the sea creatures category)
Hippocamps (sea horses in Greek mythology)
Horse-like creatures (a list)
Ceffyl Dwfr (fairy-like water horse creatures in Cymric mythology)
- Undead creatures
Asanbosam and Sasabonsam (Vampires from West Africa)
- Shape-shifters and half-human creatures (except mermaids)
Satyrs (half-man, half-goat)
Sirens in Greek Mythology (half-woman and half-bird creatures)
The Kumiho (half fox and half woman creatures)
Scorpion Men (warriors from Babylonian mythology)
Domovoi (a shape-shifter in Russian folklore)
Aatxe (Basque mythology; red bull that can shift in a human)
Yech (Native American folklore)
Ijiraat (shapeshifters in Inuit mythology)
- Sea creatures
The Kraken (a sea monster)
Nuckelavee (a Scottish elf who mainly lives in the sea)
Lamiak (sea nymphs in Basque mythology)
Bunyip (sea monster in Aboriginal mythology)
Apkallu/abgal (Sumerian mermen)
The Encantado (water spirits in Ancient Amazon River mythology)
Zin (water spirit in Nigerian folklore)
Qallupilluk (sea creatures in Inuit mythology)
- Monsters That Don’t Fit in Any Other Category
Myrmidons (ant warriors)
Giants: The Mystery and the Myth (50 min long documentary)
Inupasugjuk (giants in Inuit mythology)
Fomorians (an Irish divine race of giants)
The Orthus (two-headed serpent-tailed dog)
Rakshasa (humanoids in Hindu and Buddhist mythology)
Yakshas (warriors in Hindu mythology)
Taqriaqsuit (“Shadow people” in Inuit mythology)
- References on Folklore and Mythology Across the Globe
- References on writing a myth or mythical creatures
(I have stumbled upon web sites that believed some of these mythical creatures exist today… Especially dragons, in fact. I just had to share the love and scepticism.)
updated with links
Oh my god wilderness survival skills thank you lord I am no longer going to bullshit how to make a fire with willpower