Wee Folk and Their Friends


According to those who speak the Gaelic tongue of Scotland and Ireland, the wee folk prefer to be known as "sidhe" (also spelled sidh, sith, sithche) and pronounced "shee." There is disagreement as to the exact meaning

Fairies—magical winged beings. (CORBIS CORPORATION)
Fairies—magical winged beings. (
of sidhe. Some say that it refers to the mounds or hills in which the supernatural folk abide. Others say that it means "the people of peace," and that is how the sidhe generally behave toward humans unless the topside dwellers offend them in some way.

Traditionally, the fairies are a race of beings who are the counterparts of humankind in physical appearance but, at the same time, are nonphysical or multidimensional. They are mortal, but lead longer lives than their human cousins. Fairies have always been considered very much akin to humans, but also as something other than mortal.

The fairies are said to be able to enchant humans, to take advantage of them in numerous ways, and even cast a spell on likely young men or women and marry them. They often seem intent upon kidnapping children and adults and whisking them off to their underground kingdom. Those who return from the magical kingdom have experienced missing hours, days, weeks—even years.

On the plus side, fairies have also been reported to help farmers harvest their crops or assist housemaids in cleaning a kitchen. There

"Fairy Tale: A True Story." (THE KOBAL COLLECTION)
"Fairy Tale: A True Story." (
are accounts of fairy folk guiding humans to achieve material successes, and stories are told of fairy midwives who stand by to assist at the births of favored human children and who remain to guide and tutor them for the rest of their lives.

Some scholars and researchers of the considerable body of worldwide fairylore maintain that fairies are entities who belong solely to the realm of spirit. Many of the ancient texts declare that the fairies are somehow of a "middle nature betwixt Man and Angel." Some biblically inspired authorities have sought to cast fairies as an earthly incarnation assumed by the rebellious angels who were driven out of heaven during the celestial uprising led by Lucifer. These fallen angels, cast from their heavenly abode, took up new residences in the forests, mountains, and lakes of Earth. As fallen angels, they now existed in a much-diminished capacity, but still possessed more than enough power to be deemed supernatural by the human inhabitants of the planet.

In a variation of that account of the fairies' origin, other scholars contend that after the war in heaven, the dispossessed angels materialized on Earth and assumed physical bodies similar to those of humans—those beings declared "a little lower than the angels." Eventually, these paraphysical beings took humans as mates, thereby breeding a hybrid species of entities "betwixt Man and Angel."

William Shakespeare (1564–1616) made fairies famous in a number of his masterworks. He is largely responsible for the concept of the wee folk as mostly benign—mischievous, perhaps, but never evil. Alexander Pope (1688–1744) wrote lovely passages idealizing fairies, but once satirically remarked that he believed many of the woodland sprites were possessed by the souls of deceased socialites who even after death refused to give up earthly amusements. Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) emphasized the beauty of the fairy realm and the struggle of the fairies to achieve humanlike souls. The famed poet William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) had a nearly obsessive interest in the supernatural and strongly believed in fairies.

It was the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930), who came to the defense of Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, the two little girls who allegedly photographed fairies in the famous Case of the Cottingley Fairies in 1917. Doyle became convinced that fairies are genuine psychic phenomena and that just as some people can act as mediums and others have unusual powers of extrasensory perception, so do others—especially certain children—have the ability to see fairies. Concerning fairies themselves, Doyle theorized that they are constructed of material that emits vibrations either shorter or longer than the normal spectrum visible to the human eye.

Although in the 1980s it was revealed that the two girls had quite likely faked the photographs of the fairies, in 1997 a motion picture entitled Fairy Tale: A True Story chose to emphasize the magical qualities of the Cottingley incident. Charles Sturridge, the director, was quoted in Premiere, November 1997, as saying that he didn't want to make a film about whether or not the two young girls had faked the fairy photographs. Sturridge emphasized that his film was really all about, "The need to believe beyond what you can see." Interestingly, yet another film about the Cottingley fairies, Photographing Fairies, appeared in 1998, and director Nick Willing chose to depict the elemental beings primarily as spirits.

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