When most people think of fairies, we think of Tinkerbell like creatures- tiny human-like beings with long, wings that are either rainbow colored or clear. Most often these kinds of fairies are depicted as white. While most stories of fairies do come from English, French, Celtic, Slavic and German folklore, tales of fairies have been found all over the world. Interestingly though they are called fairies, the creatures around the world seem more like elves mainly due to their lack of wings. Around the world, the idea of what a fairy is or what they did would vary. Not only in how they looked but how they behaved and lived. Some cultures have various names for types of faeries based on what element they are associated with. The Hindu Yaksha are associated with the woods or mountainous regions, the Encantado of Portugal live in the water.
Fairies have been around for hundreds of years. While what they look like has changed from country to country and generation to generation, people are still fascinated with them. Fairies are thought to have magical powers that are used to help humans by either granting them wishes, healing them, or protecting them. Occasionally though, faeries are thought to bring sickness, death, or bad luck to the humans they cross paths with. While popular during the Renaissance, fairies became increasingly more popular in the United Kingdom during the Victorian time period thanks to the Cottingley Fairies.
The Aziza in Africa are thought to be a type of fairie. They live in the forest and help hunters by provide magic, knowledge and sharing how to use fire the hunters. The Aziza are described as being tiny hairy people who live in silk cotton trees and anthills. A tiny creature out of China has a familiar name if you are a fan of 80’s horror movies. The Mogwai are a tiny breed of fairies that are known to possess superpowers. These powers are used to cause chaos or harm humans. The word Mogwai means demon, devil, or monster. They are thought to reproduce during the rainy seasons. I guess there are some truths about these creatures in the Gremlin movies after all…
In Japan, fairies are known as Yosei. Depending on where you are in Japan, the definition of what a Yosei is may differ. Northern parts of Japan refer to Yosei as tiny creatures that are so pure of heart that they never age. In Okinawa though, the Yosei are much larger creatures who resemble a 3 or 4-year-old child with bright red hair who are quite mischievous. While not much more of them are mentioned on the internet about the Yosei folklore, their popularity in Magic The Gathering has overwhelmed most of my search for information about the fairies in Japan.
Persian folklore talks about the Pari. The Pari are beautiful winged spirits. They are known to be mischievous but also fiercely loyal to a human who shows them kindness or helps them. In Islam folklore, the Pari are thought to be more of a jinn or genie instead of a fairy.
Here in the United States, various tribes made reference to child-size, human-like creatures that were often friendly and helpful to those that showed them respect. Whether it was the Jogah from the Iroquois folklore, or the Nunnehi or Yunwi Tsundi’ from Cherokee folklore, or even the Puckwudgies from the Algonquin folklore, the stories of the fairies are oddly similar. They all describe human-like creatures that are the height of a small child, who are hairy and have narrow faces. Most are described as tricksters who will especially cruel to those that disrespect them or their home but all stories mention how they help the humans that show them kindness. Offerings of tobacco and fingernails in tiny bowls will help bring their kindness and help. Even Hawai’i folklore speaks of fairy-like creatures called Menehune. There was even a census in 1820 that claimed 65 people as being Menehune. There is also a type of fairy from Cajun folklore called the Feufollet. These types of spirits, while considered to be fairies, have no humanoid body nor do they have winds. They are a ball of light that shots out from the swamps and the woods and into the sky.
This post was actually requested by a friend and reader, Ylva. She had asked me if Japan had fairies. While I hadn’t heard of them while I was in Japan, I was curious to see if there were fairy-like creatures in Japan folklore. Then my research spiraled to other countries. Thank you, Ylva, for this rabbit hole.