The origins of faerie lore

Where do faeries come from? There are many theories.

Fortunately, faeries appear in stories dating back to ancient times.  We have tremendous information to work with.

The written history of faeries

Faeries appear in literature at least as early as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (approx. 850 BCE), in which he mentions nymphs and dryads. Some translators have romantically used the word “fairies,” as in this Iliad passage quoted by 18th-century historian, Joseph Ritson:

“Where round the bed, whence Achelous springs,
That wat’ry Fairies dance in mazy rings.”
(Iliad, Book XXIV, line 617)

[Note: Mazy means maze-like, or similar to a labyrinth.]

Since that time, there have been many references to faeries, creatures of the middle world, Underworld (or Otherworld), and so on.

The line between the fae folk and other spirits begins to blur, when we delve deeply into this subject.

However, for this page, let’s focus on when faeries in folklore became “little people,” or smaller than humans.

Faeries as “little people”

The first known mention of faeries as tiny beings, is in the 13th century work of Gervase of Tilbury. In his Otia imperialia, he describes “certain daemons, whom the French call Neptunes, the English Portunes,” and are less than “half a thumb” in height.  He’s also quoted as saying they’re as tiny as half an inch, or the size of a small finger.

In the 14th century, Chaucer spoke of a land filled with faeries, in the opening of The Wyf of Bath’s Tale:

“In th’ olde dayes of the kyng arthour,
Of which that britons speken greet honour,
Al was this land fulfild of fayerye.
The elf-queene, with hir joly compaignye,
Daunced ful ofte in many a grene mede.”

(In modern English: In the old days of King Arthur,
Of which Britons speak with honor,
All this land was filled with faeries.
The elf-queen with her jolly company
Danced often in many green meadows.)

Next, learn how Shakespeare changed almost everything that we think about faeries.

Or, listen to a podcast about the history of the “little people.”

3 thoughts on “The origins of faerie lore”

  1. ^ – ^ I would like to think not….hmm maybe they are just in hidding or right up under our nose and we just havent notice yet….plus youre right this is interesting xD

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