Fairies, supernatural beings, generally human in appearance, but endowed with super- human power, who have played an important part in the popular superstition of nearly all nations, and are still believed to exist by the common people of many countries. The origin of the word is obscure, but it is probably related to the Latin fata (pl. of fatum), which is the Italian (sing.) for fairy. The difference between a fairy and a god or goddess of ancient Greece and other polytheistic lands is very small in re- gard to the superhuman power which they are believed to possess, but fairies are never objects of worship, or of religious sentiment and ceremony, though occasionally invoked for aid, or propitiated. Fairies are believed to suffer death after a more or less extended period. They are either benevolent or malicious, and accordingly either the protectors or persecutors of human beings. Some seem to have no other purpose than that of enticing young mortals into their habitations, and treating them for a season to all manner of sensual pleasure. Their nature varies, however, with every nation.-The acvins of the Hindoo Vedas are the general helpers of favorite individuals; they assist in love intrigues, remove bodily infirmities, supply riches, succor in danger, and ride in chariots of gold.
But numerous similar beings are spoken of in the Vedas, and it may be that the adityas, also commonly mentioned with the epithet asu-ra, belong to the same class. The peris of the Persian legends are delicate creatures of wondrous beauty, and either male or female. They protect mortals against the power of the devs, who strive to drag them into sin and eternal destruction. Though not immortal, they enjoy great longevity; and though possessed of superhuman power, they are quite human in sentiment and passion. The Arabs believe in jinns, who take the place of the Persian peris, and fight against the devs. They are said to have lived on earth several thousand years before Adam, and a tradition from the prophet says they were formed of smokeless fire. They are to die before the general resurrection, but many of them have already been slain by shooting stars hurled at them from heaven. Not all are obedient to the will of God; some become ghouls and side with the devs. They are said to dwell with the peris in the mountains of Kaf, or Jinnestan, which is the boundary region of the fiat circular earth. They propagate their species, and unite sometimes with human beings. They can render themselves visible and invisible, and assume the form of animals.
The Jews believed in beings like the Arabian jinns, whom they called she-dim, sehirim, or mazzikim. According to Tal-mudical legends, the shedim were offspring of Adam, who after having eaten from the tree of life was under excommunication for 130 years, and begat during that time spirits, demons, and spectres of the night. They are said to resemble angels in being able to see without being seen, in having wings, and in knowing the future; and to resemble man in eating and drinking, marrying, and bearing children, and in being subject to death. They have the power of assuming any form they please. The Grecian mythology abounds in personifications, and the beings who presided over the various parts of external nature were mostly conceived to be females, and were denominated nymphs, which originally signified newly married women. They were always represented in the perfection of beauty, and dwelt, under the various names of oreads, dryads, naiads, lim-niads, and nereids, in mountains, trees, springs, lakes, the sea, caverns, and grottoes. Their life resembled that of women, and they occasionally bestowed their love on mortals. They possessed power to reward and punish, and to protect and persecute.
The fairies of the Romans were like those of Greece, and were generally supposed to lead a solitary life in fountains, streams, and lakes. Of these Ege-ria, Anna Perenna, and Juturna were the most famous. The rural lares resembled the Gothic dwarfs in size, and were regarded as being the souls of dead men who lingered near their earthly habitations. The lares formed part of the Etrurian religion, and differed from the penates, who were not fairy-like beings, but gods, or personifications of natural powers.-The old Italians believed in a being, called an incubo, that had the power of revealing hidden treasures. A being very much resembling it occurs still in the popular tales of modern Naples. He is a stout little man with a broad-brimmed hat and a long coat, and leads people to places where treasures are concealed. His name is Monacello, which is given also to other diminutive beings resembling the house spirit of the Germanic nations. The most prominent figures in ancient and modern Italian legends are the fate. These beings are ruled by Demo-gorgon, who resides in the Himalaya mountains, and are summoned to him every fifth year. One of them, the Fata Morgana, was the personification of Fortune, and plays an important role in the Orlando innamorato.
In that poem Boiardo introduces the Fata Sil-vanella, who raised a tomb over Narcissus, and then dissolved away in a fountain; and when Brandamarte opens the tomb and kisses the hideous serpent that thrusts out its head, it becomes a beautiful maiden. Other fate are Nera, Bianca, Alcina, Dragontina, and Falerina. The fairies of Spain are not very numerous, and Spanish fairy lore is very scanty. There is a tale of a girl seized by demons who reside at the bottom of a lake; another of a nobleman who married a woman that flew into the air at hearing the name of the Virgin Mary; and another of a hunchback musician, who was one night surrounded by little beings, whom he so pleased with his art that they removed his hunch. The greatest reputation is enjoyed by the duendes and trasgos, who resemble the house spirits.-The dracs of southern France assume the human form, reside in the caverns of rivers, and entice bathing women and boys. The follets inhabit the houses of simple country people, and are invisible, though their voices are heard; their chief employment seems to be pelting people with stones and household utensils. There are also accounts of spirits who suddenly enter a house, ransack and upset everything, and torment those who are sleeping in it.