The idea prevalent among the peasantry of Ireland, Great Britain, and most of the northern nations of Europe, relative to preternatural beings inhabiting woods, mountains, and wastes, and denominated in the English language Fairies, originated in the tenets of Polytheism, or the sect of paganism professed by all the ancient inhabitants of Europe, before the light of the Gospel shone among them.

Our ancestors, not content with deriving the origin of nature from an eternal Almighty Being, delegated the works and operations of nature to subordinate divinities of different orders and degrees, some having immediate intercourse, and ultimately connected, with the Divine Being, from whom they thought they originated; whilst others, though far superior to mankind, were only ministering spirits to those of higher dignity. In every order and degree myriads of these spiritual existences were supposed to inhabit all parts of the universe; some, they said, dwelt in the sun, some in the moon, and others in the planets and stars; whilst others again were stationed on earth, superintending not only the affairs of mankind, but every animal and vegetable production; nay, rivers, lakes, plains, valleys, rocks, and mountains, were under their protection, and even the elements were said to have their guardian genii.

The descriptions given of these aerial beings, in the traditions and superstitions of the people, are elegant and pleasing. They are generally defined blooming in full perfection of youth and beauty, enjoying the most elegant and finished forms, and clothed in loose and flowing garments of azure, blue or purple, skirted with gold and silver, whilst chaplets of the most beautiful and odoriferous flowers of the different seasons adorn their heads, necks, and arms; and gems, which exceeded in brilliance the pellucid drops of early dew, gave a lustre to their elegant golden tresses. Of these fanciful beings some were said to sport in living crystal waters, rivers, and fountains: others presiding over groves, forests, and plains, reposed on carpets of violets and primroses, in bowers of jessamines, woodbines and roses; whilst others, furnished with gold plumed wings, rode through the regions of the air in cloudy chariots of the most splendid hues, where they directed the winds, rain, storms and tempests.

Those which were supposed to preside over the forests and vegetable productions of the earth, the Irish and Britons denominated Feadh-Righ [Fairy], or “Woodland Divinities.” The Fairies were supposed to hold their habitations under the ground and in the bodies of trees: to them appertained the care of corn, fruit and cattle. They were generally favourable to the human race, though when, through the ingratitude of mankind, they were injured in any of their charges, they frequently notified their resentment on several subjects committed to their charge: the springs became turbid, the corn and fruit blasted, the cattle sickened and died. On which account great care and attention were employed to merit the favour of these guardian spirits; and no small degree of homage was paid to them. The ancient Irish generally sacrificed to them by pouring a part of what they drank upon the earth; and so firmly did they believe in their existence, that there were persons in rural districts called Fairy Doctors, who were supposed to hold immediate intercourse with them, and prevented them from not only injuring the cattle, corn, and trees, but cured them of such diseases as they were supposed to have inflicted on them.

These imaginary beings among different nations have various names and employments, according to their situation and mode of life. Among the northern nations they were called Aafe, Fairies and Elves; with the Greeks, Nomes; with the Romans, Naiads, Nymphs, Silvans, Satyrs, etc.; and in the Hebrew theology they make a considerable department. Whence it is evident that the opinion respecting Genii, Fairies, Spectres, and Apparitions, so prevalent amongst most nations, arose from this ancient doctrine.—Gaskin’s Irish Varieties.