Fairies are often depicted as whimsical little creatures who either keep to themselves in magical forests or wreak havoc on the human population. These supernatural creatures have flown their way into cultures across Europe. In modern times, fairies are still common themes in stories and are popular inspiration for tattoos.
So, when did fairies flutter their way into human consciousness, and what does a fairy tattoo mean now in the 21st century?
The History Of Fairies
Fairy legends and myths developed independently in many countries. However, the name “fairy” wasn’t always their moniker. “Little people” and “hidden people” were often used to describe these mysterious beings.
As for why people believed that such humanoids existed, Historic UK says,
“Some say that they are like ghosts, spirits of the dead, or were fallen angels, neither bad enough for Hell nor good enough for Heaven.”
When you think of fairies and pictures come to mind of Disney characters helping princes and princesses, think again. This is a far cry from what people of old thought of fairies.
“In Ireland in particular, such was the fear of upsetting the fairies, that instead of referring to them by name, they were euphemistically called the Little People, the Gentry, or the Neighbors,”Five Minute History
It is said that fairies got their start in Ancient Greece as nymphs.
Nymphs In Greek Mythology
Nymphs weren’t immortal, but they weren’t humans, either. These beings were somewhere in between. They had longer life spans than humans, and they were associated with the natural world.
“The Oceanids, for example, were sea nymphs; the Nereids inhabited both saltwater and freshwater; the Naiads presided over springs, rivers, and lakes. The Oreads (oros, ‘mountain’) were nymphs of mountains and grottoes; the Napaeae (nape, ‘dell’) and the Alseids (alsos, ‘grove’) were nymphs of glens and groves; the Dryads or Hamadryads presided over forests and trees,”Britannica
For more on Greek mythology tattoos, click here.
Fairies also have a long history in England.
The Fairies Of Britain
Fairy folklore gained popularity in the 13th century thanks to the book, Otia Imperialia (Recreation for an Emperor) by Gervase of Tilbury. He wrote about fairies in a variety of contexts: Tall and small, beautiful and ugly, good and evil.
“The British concept of fairies was a lot more haunting than the explanation of fairies in Gervase’s book. The British feared fairies a lot because they believed that fairies were mischievous creatures that could curse them,”Lessons From History
Over the centuries, fairies have evolved and getting a tattoo of one can have a vast array of meanings.
The Meanings Behind Fairy Tattoos
When it comes to fairy tattoos, there are a ton of mysterious avenues to go down, from Celtic fairies to Disney inspired tattoos.
Celtic Inspired Fairy Tattoos
If you want your tattoo to have a connection to nature, you may dive into the tales of old British and Celtic folklore.
“This tattoo means that you are connected to the Earth and that magical happenings may help you or hurt you depending on how well you behave,”Tatt Mag
Originally a character in the famous story, Peter Pan, Tinkerbell became so popular that she became Disney’s mascot.
This sassy fairy loved to go on adventures with Peter and the Lost Boys, so a tattoo of Tinkerbell can represent wanderlust and a free spirit.
Tinkerbell lived in Neverland, the land where children never grow old. This can translate into a Tinkerbell tattoo. Tattoo SEO explains,
“The Tinkerbell tattoo is a constant reminder of our youth and to try to have a bit of ‘kid’ in us at all times. Life is already tough so if we can remind ourselves to have fun and cherish those childlike moments, we will all be in a better place when we reach the end of our lives.”
Gothic Fairy Tattoo
For an alternative to the cutesy fairy tattoo, you could go the Gothic route.
They can be dark in design and highlight the mischievous, dark nature of fairy myths and legends.
“When the Gothic fairy is simply a female fairy with a goth-style persona, the tattoo means that you are a beautiful person with a hidden dark side. A Gothic fairy tattoo is a dark twist on this light and airy image, so it can represent a loss of innocence,”Tatt Mag
Fairy Tattoo Ideas
There are a lot of different additions you could incorporate into your fairy tattoo to take the magical aesthetic to another level.
Moon And Fairy Tattoo
A moon fairy tattoo can symbolize a connection to the heavens.
Each phase of the moon has its own specific meaning. New moons can represent new beginnings and rejuvenation, while a full moon can be a call to release that which no longer serves you.
Crescent moons symbolize femininity as well as growth and creativity.
For more on moon tattoos and their meanings, click here.
Flower And Fairy Tattoo
For an ode to nature as well as the magic of fairies, adding a flower to your fairy tattoo could be the right choice for you.
Many flowers have deep meanings attached to them. For example, roses mean passion and love, sunflowers represent good luck and lasting happiness in Chinese culture, and daisies can symbolize innocence and purity.
Plus, this can be a great opportunity to add color to your body art.
For more on flower tattoos and their meanings, click here.
Silhouette And Single Line Fairy Tattoo
If you want a minimalistic fairy tattoo, a simple silhouette or single line tattoo could be the style for you.
A silhouette tattoo is the outline of the subject, in this case a fairy, with the shape colored in to create a type of shadow.
Whereas a single line tattoo could just be the outline of the fairy without filling in the shape.
Fine line tattoos are beautifully simplistic, however it’s important to go to a tattoo artist well versed in this style of tattooing as mistakes in fine lines are easier to see compared with more traditional tattoo styles.
For more on minimalist tattoos, click here.
Lots of theories can be sprouted as to why some of our ancestors believed in little people with supernatural abilities. But, fairy magic wasn’t completely left behind at the turn of the 19th century.
In 1917, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths claimed that they caught fairies on camera. Decades later the two admitted that some of the photos were fake – all but one image.
Then, in 1962, a farmer’s wife in Somerset, UK, said that she got lost and was put on the right track by a small man in green who appeared suddenly and then disappeared.
Perhaps fairies simply built their homes further and further away from us as we expanded and built cities and highways. Whatever the case, a fairy tattoo can still hold a touch of magic for the tattooee.