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Celtic Folklore

Dragons and Fairies

The dragon, a creature of myth and legend is found in almost every culture of the world in some form. In Celtic mythology, the dragon was believed to be of a world that was parallel to the physical world. It was thought, by the Druids, that the dragon’s power affected the ley of the land. They believed that the path the dragons took was important to the flow of energy through the physical world. Areas where a dragon passed often, where dragon paths crossed or places a dragon stopped to rest became more powerful than the areas surrounding it.

There are two types of dragons in Celtic lore. There is the standard winged version with four legs that most people are familiar with and there is a sea serpent that is depicted as either a giant wingless serpent or huge serpent with wings, but no legs. The dragon was a gatekeeper to other worlds and guardian to the secrets and treasures of the universe. They were often depicted side by side with the Celtic gods. As creatures that protect the Earth and all living things, Celtic dragons are considered the most powerful of all the Celtic symbols.

They are used as a symbol of power and wisdom among leaders. Dragons are seen on many coat of arms and on the Welsh flag. As a heraldic symbol, the dragon varies greatly, especially the ears. The wings are always that of a bat, its tongue and tail can be barbed or smooth. Y Ddraig Goch, the red dragon, on the Welsh flag was derived from the Great Red Serpent that had represented the Welsh god Dewi. King Arthur was one of the first leaders to use the red dragon. It was prominently shown on his helmet.

Fairy comes from the Old French word faerie. The word has been overused to describe a supernatural being. There is a great deal of difference in classifying a being as a fairy from the medieval literature and those from modern literature, especially those belonging to the Celtic tradition.

In the Arthurian legends, the divine or fairy figures also appeared in abundance. Morgan, Arthur's half-sister, seemed to be great sorceress and healer, was often called Morgan le Fay; her nickname Fay, which means "Fairy". And then there is this Lady of the Lake. Arthur's wife, Guinevere, or Gwenhwyfar in the Welsh tradition, also appeared to be a fairy, as well as the sovereignty goddess. Many knights were either born from fairies or they took female fairies as their lovers. Even Merlin was only part mortal.



Then you would discover that that these images of fairies are not the only kind. There were all sorts in fairy tales and folklores. Some are benign, while others are maligned and hostile to mortals. Some were seen as fair, while others were considered ugly and monstrous to look at. They can come in all size and sizes - tall or short, fat or skinny, so there is really no clear definition of fairies may look like. Different types of fairies may also have different types of magical powers.

So, what are these fairies? Where do they come from?

To understand what they are, we should look at some of those found in Celtic mythology and other Celtic traditions. But, then you would discover that fairies are not just confined in Celtic traditions. Many cultures and civilizations have their own versions of fairies.

There are enough kinds of fairies to confuse anyone, because sometimes writers have associated one fairy with a different kind.

In Celtic religion, there was Celtic deities in Gaul (France and Belgium), Hispania (Spain) and Britannia (Britain) during the Roman occupation of these regions or provinces. But the situation changed when Christianity spread to the west and north. These deities that were worshipped before the conversion to Christianity were reduced to the status of fairies in Celtic mythology and folklore.

So in Ireland the gods in the Tuatha De Danann were degenerated to the roles of fairies (eg. Dagda and Lugh), people living under the dune mound or fabled islands, or even within underwater domains. Similar degeneration occurred with old deities in Wales, Scotland and other surviving pockets of Celtic kingdoms (such as Cornwall, Brittany and island of Man).

These earlier Celtic traditions of fairies, the former Irish or Welsh deities were also not fairies in the usual sense. They looked very much like human, in size and shape, except that they have special magical powers and they seemed eternally young, but they don't have wings. The Dananns or their Welsh counterparts were usually seen as race of fair people. They can die just as mortals can, but their lives could last hundreds or even thousands of years.