Fairies are a common theme in fantasy and legend, but it may come as a surprise to many that the original Fairies of folklore were far from the sweet and innocent beings we have come to see them as in modern times.
Fairies of folklore were vicious, vindictive and cruel, embodying forces of nature, lesser deities or even the spirits of the dead (depending on the legend), and often appearing as monstrous figures rather than the winged pixie-like beings we associate the word with today.
Fairies of folklore were blamed for all manner of mischief and ills, ranging from petty vandalism and theft to outright murder and kidnap. They would frequently be blamed for causing livestock to grow sick or die. They would lead travelers astray at night or lure men to their doom near ponds and rivers. If sufficiently angered, they would even kill.
The Fairies came in several distinct types. The most feared and malicious were the Unseelie Court who would often attack and harass mortals without cause or reason. They consisted of Redcaps, Goblins, Hags and other malicious spirits.
Outwith the Unseelie Court were other fairy troops and individuals, though these were more amoral in regards to mortals they were still greatly feared and ruled in a manner like that of ancient gods - namely with vengeance and fear.
Powers and Abilities
Fairies could kidnap women, children, or men as they saw fit, often replacing infants with Changelings, frequent targets of Fairy attacks were travelers and musicians. As many Fairies were said to love song and dance, indeed, legends speak of the dangers of such merriment as many mortals have been captivated by a troop of Fairies dancing. Although not particularly an act of malice, these Fairies would often spirit the captivated mortal away to the "other world" to live with them, often never to be seen again by mortal eyes.
More aggressive tales speak of beings such as the Finfolk or Siren, who will quite happily snatch mortals away, often screaming in terror, forcing them to become their unwilling brides or servants. However, this worked both ways. There were many tales of greedy and foolish mortals enslaving Fairies in similiar ways (such as the tale of the Selkie).
Some fairies even prey on humans, like Black Annis.
Perhaps the most terrifying of all fairies in folklore was the Nuckelavee, a being so malevolent and dangerous that its very name is believed to bring bad luck. A monster of unfathomable might, the Nuckelavee is as far removed from our modern idea of "fairy" as possible, yet was seen as a very real threat to those who lived in the isles where it was said to surface.
Fairies were believed to be the spirits of the dead, survivors of long lost tribes, guardians of nature, demons, or a supernatural race that grew alongside humanity. The concepts often merged, but in general, most Fairies of folklore can be classed as spirits (whether of the dead or nature), and as such, they were considerably feared and revered in equal lengths.
However, in time, the Fairies would be given a kinder look and nature, which would ultimately give rise to the sweet and innocent figures that popularly come to mind when one mentions the word "fairy", a stereotype further popularized by characters such as Disney's Tinker Bell.
It is little wonder few would recognize the word "Fairy" as being villainous, but rest assured if one was to turn the clock back to the days of old, or even ventured to more remote areas of the world, the word "fairy" would conjure up tales of danger, horror and (in extreme cases) death.