When we think of fairies, we might still think of something small and sweet, something kind and helpful. But that is not the way that fairies were seen in earlier periods in the British Isles. Instead, fairies were a branch of revenant, akin to the restless dead, and willing to welcome those who died before their time into their midst. We know this from Scottish witchcraft trials, in which men and women who had dealings with the fairies were accused of trafficking with demons, something they were all too willing to believe because of the dark experiences they had with fairies and their kind. And yet fairies also represented a connection with the barren and unproductive parts of nature, as well as a possible link to dead relatives and friends, often accessible through the stone creations of previous generations of human beings. Fairies are nature spirits, but they are dark and terrifying, and they remind people of what they have tried to control, discard or destroy.
Diane Purkiss is Professor of English Literature at Keble College, Oxford. She was formerly Professor of English at Exeter University. She is the author of the highly acclaimed The Witch in History , and Troublesome Things: A History of Fairies and Fairy Stories
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