Fairy vs. Pixie vs Sprite The Confusion
For those of us that enjoy reading a good fantasy story some names have become all too familiar. We hear about creatures and places straight out of folk lore and often do not fully understand what they are. Today I thought we would look at three beings that are often mixed up and confused just like the humans they play tricks on. What is the difference between a Fairy vs Pixie vs Sprite? Are they three distinct beings or just different names for one?
With magical beings such as the dragon, gnome, mermaid, unicorn, vampire, ent, troll, goblin, werewolves, nymphs and warg occupying the majority of coverage on our site lately I thought it best to return to our roots. Fairies will always be a main staple in fantasy stories along with elves and wizards. They are the cornerstones that make these stories magical. Lets delve into the fantasy realm and see what we uncover.
What is a Fairy?
The term Fairy comes from the Old French word faerie. The term Faerie is derived from “Fé erie”, meaning the enchantment of the Fées, while Fé is derived from Fay, which is itself derived from Fatae, the Fates. Just getting to the origin of the name can be a bit confusing.
The term has come to mean any supernatural creature tied to the earth, except monsters and ghosts.
In Ireland, the fairies are called the Aes Sídhe. Sídhe is also the name for the earthen mounds and hills that dot the Irish landscape.
The word has been overused to describe a supernatural being. We have started to lump many different types of creatures under the same title. Beings that for centuries had their own distinct tales and descriptions now blur together as one.
Today, when we think of fairies, we often visualise them as tiny, supernatural beings with wings and glowing like in today’s children fairy tales. And they also possessed magical powers, like Tinkerbell in the story of Peter Pan or the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella.
The fairies are supernatural beings that can be best described by the Greek word – daimon, which means “spirit”.
The label of fairy has at times applied only to specific magical creatures with human appearance, small stature, magical powers, and a penchant for trickery. At other times it has been used to describe any magical creature, such as goblins and gnomes. Fairy has at times been used as an adjective, with a meaning equivalent to “enchanted” or “magical”.
Types of Fairy
Since Fairies are beings of nature they are often described by the various aspects of nature itself. Such as water fairies, tree fairies and various flower fairies. On top of this variety you have the two main social structures for their cultures.
Social or trooping fairies are those who lived in large company, like in a clan. The Tuatha de Danann who lived in the sidh, ruled by a king, and sometimes a queen (or both), can be considered as the social fairies. They were often seen feasting, singing and dancing. They can be either benevolent or hostile to humans. Another example of trooping fairies is the Merrow.
The solitary fairy usually avoid large gathering. There are many types of solitary fairy, such as banshee, leprechaun, cluricaune, brownie, pooka, etc.
Generally, they can be recognised by the type of jackets they wore. The social fairies wore green jackets, while the solitary fairies wore red ones, but sometimes their jackets are brown or grey.
What is a Pixy?
According to folklore of southwestern England, tiny elf like spirit or mischievous fairy dressed in green who dances in the moonlight to the music of frogs and crickets. Its favourite pastimes are leading travelers astray and frightening young maidens. Pixies also delight in rapping on walls, blowing out candles, and playing in water.
However, sometimes their mischief appeared serious. They were known to lure travelers walking alone astray, confusing them to the point that they could become lost for hours. Those who deliberately followed pixies often vanished without a trace.
For example, a farmhand at Rowbrook, situated on the steep, wooded flanks of the River Dart valley, is said to have been lured down towards the river by mysterious voices, calling “Jan Coo.” He was never seen again.
Pixies are usually depicted as being wingless, having pointed ears, and often wearing a green outfit and pointed hat. Sometimes their eyes are described as being pointed upwards at the temple ends. They are said to enjoy playing tricks on people; for example, stealing their belongings or throwing things at them.
Even within living memory, some rural families left small gifts, such as bowls of food or saucers of milk, for the pixies in order to placate them. When shown this respect and attention, pixies would sometimes help the family by tidying up the house during the night.
At night, they steal horses and bring them back before dawn, leaving only tangled manes as evidence of the prank. Some pixies are said to exude pixie dust, which is left in their footprints or floating behind them as they move.
Pixies can be repelled by objects made from iron or iron ore, as contact with the metal is said to harm them. This is another trait they share in common with other fairies of the British Isles.
In some regions, belief in pixies has endured into contemporary times. During the construction of Hinkley Point nuclear power station, anything that went wrong was blamed on “The Pixy,” since the station being built near Wick’s Barrow, an Iron Age burial mound called “Pixies Mound” by the locals.
Pixies are considered to be particularly concentrated in the areas the downs and moors of Devon and Cornwall. Like sprites and other different types of English faeries, pixies are often considered mischievous, but not overtly malevolent creatures of nature. Pixies continue to appear in stories and movies, often described as mischievous beings.
It has been speculated by some medical professionals that the legends of pixies and elves were inspired by a genetic disorder known as Williams syndrome.
The exact origin of the word pixie (also spelled pixy) is obscure, but most likely stems from the Old English pisgy, which was the local name given to fairy-like creatures, although not specifically pixies. This idea is supported by the fact that in regional dialect, these mischievous little folk are sometimes referred to as “piskies”/”piskeys” or “the little people.”
The first to write extensively about pixies was British novelist Mrs. Anna Eliza Bray in The Borders of the Tamar and the Tavy, 3 vol. (1837). Before then, pixies were part of the long-standing oral tradition found in Great Britain that also included the similar faeries. Thus, it is difficult to determine how exactly the idea of the pixie was first conceptualized and when.
What is a Sprite?
The word “sprite” is derived from the Latin “spiritus” (spirit), via the French “esprit”. Variations on the term include “spright” and the Celtic “spriggan”. The term is chiefly used in regard to elves and fairies in European folklore, and in modern English is rarely used in reference to spirits.
The term sprite was used as a broadened reference to legendary creatures that had features similar to an elf.
A sprite could be a fairy to someone, while another viewed them as a spiritual being, such as a ghost. European folklore depicted sprites as being lively, spirited creatures thus the reason for their name.
The Europeans are not the only culture that believes in the small statured sprites in their folk tales the concept is found in other parts of the world.
There are also some cultures that see the sprite as an elemental figure. For example, a water sprite is one that is associated with water. These types of sprites are said to have the ability to breathe water or air. also some cultures that see the sprite as an elemental figure. For example, a water sprite is one that is associated with water. Similar to the water nymph. These types of sprites are said to have the ability to breathe water or air.
Difference between Fairy vs Pixie vs Sprite
This is where things get really tricky. You see over the years the terms have come to be interchangeable and often used in a mixed way.
Traditionally they are related creatures from the same family but distinctly different in their characteristics. With time we began to see them as different classes of fairy.
Since all of the tales vary somewhat it becomes impossible to truly differentiate the creatures. Are they all really just variations of a fairy? We may never really know for sure. All we have to go on is word of mouth tales that have been passed down for generations and interpreted by many. What do you believe? Are they three separate beings or just different names for one? Please comment below.