According to my site meter, hundreds people from around the world have come to my blog by searching the Internet for Pixies, Faeries, Brownies and Elves (because of a post I wrote about these creatures as depicted in vintage Halloween postcards).
Apparently, these supernatural folk provoke a lot of curiosity worldwide! Since my blog for the month of March is celebrating all things Irish, I thought it would be fun to do some posts on Irish and/or Celtic mythological creatures.
There seems to be a lot of confusion regarding the differences between pixies, faeries, elves and other legendary folk like the sidhe, leprechauns, selkies, dwarfs, sprites, brownies, gnomes, goblins/hobgoblins, trolls and leprechauns. In this post I am going to try to sort out these various creatures:
A sprite is a generic-type term that can cover all sorts of small, elusive supernatural beings, especially faeries, pixies and elves.
In the modern world we think of faeries as being diminutive, delicate, female creatures with wings and beautiful gossamer clothing. This type of faerie is so well known I won't go into detail about them here.
(a hooley is an Irish evening of song and dance)
Elves are sometimes described as youthful-seeming men and women of great beauty living in forests and underground places or caves, or in wells and springs. They are portrayed as long-lived or immortal and having magical powers. This would jive with the interpretation of elves as found in "The Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R. Tolkien.
However, in the modern (or at least American world), elves are depicted and described as being diminutive in size, though both have pointed ears (e.g. The Keebler Elves).
A gnome is a mythical creature characterized by its short size, taciturn nature and subterranean lifestyle. They live in natural areas close to the earth and care for wildlife. Today, gnomes are traditionally thought of as being small bearded men wearing colorful pointed hats. (Think of the ubiquitous garden gnome.) They are more benevolent than other folkloric creatures such as goblins.
A dwarf is a short humanoid creature, much like us, but generally living underground or in mountainous areas. Here they have heaped up countless treasures of gold, silver, and precious stones, and pass their time in fabricating costly armor. They are famed miners and smiths. Generally shorter than humans, they are on average stockier and hairier, usually sporting full beards and wearing armor and carrying axes.
Of course, we all know about leprechauns, the mythical creatures that seem to be found only in Irish folklore. They are described as male fae that appear as tiny, wizened old men. They often ply the trade of shoemaker.
Like the nisse and the tomte, brownies inhabit houses and aid in household tasks. However, they don't like to be seen and will only work at night, traditionally in exchange for small gifts or food. They take quite a delight in porridge and honey. They usually abandon the house if their gifts are called payments, or if the owners of the house misuse them.
That leaves pixies, selkies and the sidhe (pronounced shee), which I find to be the most interesting - and least well known - of the supernatural creatures mentioned in this post. Therefore I am devoting a post to each one in the following days.