Ronald Hutton’s Typology of Faeries

In the video I mentioned in this post, Prof. Hutton provided a concise classification system for the faeries of northern Europe. It is but one part of a fascinating and expertly presented lecture, and I’m summarizing it here because it fits nicely (though not perfectly) with the way I developed the Fair Folk one meets in Children of Pride.  Hutton speaks of three basic categories of faeries in the British Isles:

1. Faeries proper, which Hutton describes as “the neighbors from hell.” These are the frightening and often malicious faeries one encounters in the oldest strands of faerie lore: the daoine sídhe and their cohorts. They live underground in a society that mirrors that of human beings, with courts, royalty (usually queens), banqueting, dancing, and the like.

2. Household helpers, including all manner of brownies, hobs, fenodyrees, and the like. These creatures are more mischievous than malicious, and they can sometimes be persuaded to help with the domestic and agricultural chores. But be careful, because they are easily offended and may just leave if one does something of which they don’t approve.

3. Faerie tricksters such as Robin Goodfellow. These are practical jokers, generally harmless or amusing rather than hostile. They are a rather late invention according to Hutton, largely under the influence of Shakespeare’s Puck. He is most assuredly not a pooka, which would better be understood as a dreaded “night being.” He further compares Robin Goodfellow to Native American trickster archetypes like Coyote as a trickster and buffoon, but also sometimes a powerful cosmic force. (Hutton does not use the specific terminology of “faery trickster,” but I think this is a fair description.)

He also notes a fourth category:

4. Nature spirits such as the pans and nymphs of Greek mythology. Properly speaking, Hutton says there are relatively few of these in the folklore of the British Isles. He further insists that these creatures are not, properly speaking, faeries at all since they fit into the natural realm in a way that traditional Anglo-Celtic faeries do not. Unlike faeries proper, beings of this type seem to be nearly universal in human cultures. Although Hutton insists such creatures are not faeries, he does say that the trolls or faeries of Iceland (and the related trows of the Orkney and Shetland Islands) are something of a hybrid between this category and the first. They are “land wights” who exercise guardianship over the land, but they are also said to live in underground communities and are often less than hospitable to human beings.

If you’re interested in the faery lore of the British Isles, you really owe it to yourself to listen to Prof. Hutton’s lecture.

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