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Fairies: The Old Gods

In England, before the Norman Conquest of 1066, fairies were called elves. Fairy is a word borrowed from French. Walt Disney would have you believe that fairies are sweet little creatures with wings and wands, helpful entities like Tinkerbell and the Tooth Fairy. 

Walt was wrong. 

In many lands people believe it’s not wise to go about your business in a manner which offends them–they are touchy. Dead scary in fact. J.K. Rowling introduced her readers to bogles, ashwinders, chimaeras, cute little crups, and, of course, elves.  Tricky folk.

So why believe in fairies?

Some say the idea of fairies was just too useful to be abandoned. Some say they’re still around because they are the old gods of the Celts. They can do what they want. But what changes they have undergone! Lugh, the powerful sky god good at doing many things, has become the luprachan (leprechaun), the little fairy good at making shoes. Mind you he is still devious–he guards a pot of gold, you know. 

Fionn MacCumhaill is a giant in fairy tales, responsible for creating the Giant’s Causeway in the north of Ireland and Fingal’s Cave in Scotland. And did you know that Highlanders don’t believe that ghosts, the spirits of the dead, inhabit the houses (and castles) of the living? Nope. Their homes are ‘haunted’ by other equally benign or frightening beings. You will have information about kelpies, selkies, the washerwoman of the ford, and many other supernatural entities. 

What you will learn:

  • The definition of a fairy – which varies considerably
  • The many origins of belief in fairies
  • How the old gods ‘morphed’ into fairies
  • Memorable fairy characters
  • Supernatural animals
  • Suggestions for novels with fairies or elves

Who should take this course:

  • Writers who would like to learn a ‘new take’ on a well-known supernatural entity 
  • Writers who would like to learn some new fantasy characters and creatures 
  • Writers who would like to know more about folklore and mythology

Resources you will have:

The course includes simple research projects to generate story ideas. Discussion and questions are encouraged, but lurkers also welcome.

A comprehensive bibliography and webology


Fairies 1: Germanic & Celtic Belief

  1. Fairies: Definitions
  2. Origins
  3. Germanic Beliefs: English, Norse
  4. Celtic Beliefs: Welsh & Cornish
  5. The Veil of Isis

Fairies 2: The Landscape

  1. Dinnshenchas (Hill Traditions)
  2. Sacred Water 
  3. Sacred Wood
  4. Sacred Time
  5. Stone Monuments

Fairies 3: Gaelic Gods & Goddesses

  1. Anu/Danu/Aine
  2. The Enchantment of Gearóid Iarla
  3. Tuatha de Danann
  4. The Sons of Míl Espáine
  5. Fionn, Cú Chulainn & the Ancestor Cult      

Fairies 4: Animals

1. Creatures of the Air

  • Birds
  • Insects

2. House & Farm

  • Dogs/Hounds
  • Horses
  • Cattle

3. Water 

  • Selkies
  • Kelpies
  • Water Horses

4. Hill & Forest 

  • Boars
  • Deer
  • Wolves
  • Dragons

5. Tribes & Totemic Animals

Fairies 5: The Fate of the Ancient Gods

  1. The Spread of Christianity
  2. The Fate of the Ancient Gods
  3. The Fairy Faith
  4. Divination
  5. The Fairy Flag of the MacLeods
  6. An Taigh Cèilidh (The Visiting House)

Fairies 6: The Otherworld

  1. Tìr nan òg (Land of the Young)
  2. An Dà Shealladh (Second Sight)  
  3. Death Warnings, a good thing 
    • the trinity of war goddesses
    • the washer woman
    • the banshee
  4. Smiths
  5. Witches & Fairies
  6. Purposes for Fairies
  7. Protection from Fairies

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