Humans do not have to die to become nature spirits or trooping fairies. Humans are so close to fairies they can, in fact, be transformed into fairies while still living. This should not be so surprising because, as previously mentioned; humans are in essence just another form of fairy.
It has been theorized that many of our fairy stories come from the existence of indigenous peoples in England. People ostracized and driven to the fringes of society or the underdogs who were mysterious to those who rejected them. In Cornwall one man testifies that:
“Pixies were often supposed to be the souls of the prehistoric dwellers of this country. As such, pixies were supposed to be getting smaller and smaller until, finally, they are to vanish entirely.” (Wentz, 1911)
This paints a much more terrifying picture of some of the fairies than we often imagined. According to this account, the pixies who people often think of as cute, little, playful fairies, are small because they are shrinking into oblivion. What’s more, they have had to live for thousands of years with the knowledge that they will eventually disappear and that those humans who would remain are the decedents of the people who forced them into their horrible fate. It is no wonder then that such beings are caught between human-like sympathy and incredible bitterness because, while they must retain some human emotion, much of this emotion must be anger at being driven into their current state.
If we accept the presence of many of our ancestors among the fairies, as we surely must given the large amount of evidence to support this, we must also accept that there are other humans, often far angrier humans, occupying the world of fairies. Further, there are very few people who can claim to be the first inhabitants of their lands and perhaps only two such people groups in Europe. So it would seem that only some fairies would be the ancestors of any given set of humans especially given that as with the pixies whole kingdoms of humans could become fairies. This might explain why people in Europe were so afraid of the wilderness. After they drove the original inhabitants of Europe into the dark forests and mountains, these peoples and the fairies they came to be had centuries to grow ever bitterer.
In Ireland, many people believed that the Tuatha De Danann were an indigenous people who turned invisible and entered a parallel realm when the Irish people invaded Ireland, as the Tuatha De Danann were unable to defeat the newcomers in a test of arms because of the Irish peoples’ powerful druids and deities. The Tuatha De Danann now reside in the hills and rocks of Ireland much as fairies do in other parts of the Europe (Wentz, 1911).The Tuatha De Danann are mysterious but also understandable because they still structure themselves much as humans would with kingdoms and fortresses, wars, and a little bit of both enmity and pity for the decedents of those that drove them into the underground realm who are still stuck as suffering mortals despite their apparent “victory.”
In an Austrian myth, a poor girl freezing to death in the cold comes across a hut of fairies who demand that she sleep with one of them for shelter. The freezing girl, afraid of dying from the cold, ultimately agrees to go to bed with one of them. As she is lying there with him, a woman from a nearby village comes to trade with the fairies and finds the poor girl in bed with them. Disgusted that a human, one of her own, would sleep with such creatures, the woman brings the villagers back to the hut, kills the men, and sends the girl out to die in the elements. (Keightley, 1870) Like the leprechauns, it would seem that fairies in this case were easily taken down by humans. In other words, fairies, at least in these instances, not only have something to fear from humans but are in fact easily overcome by them. This may explain the desire of at least some of the fairies to remain hidden, though this desire is contradicted by the fact that at least in some cases fairies want humans to believe in their existence.
We must also realize that the woman in the aforementioned story felt no qualms about storming into the house of the fairies to discover the girl sleeping with one of them. For if the fairies had had time to hide the girl, they surely would have since they must have known what the woman’s reaction would be. What we have then is a story of beings who are ostracized, considered far less than human to the point that they are dehumanized.
Lest we think that such myths are confined to Europe, we must consider a more recent case of this “fairyification” process which comes from Hawaii, that of the Menehune. The Menehune are the indigenous people of the Hawaiian Islands. As the current Hawaiian peoples moved into Hawaii, they drove the Menehune deeper into the jungles from which they mythologically emerged at night to build magical temples before fleeing back to the jungles when the sun rose. Yet despite their mythological status, they were a real people whose ancestors were counted in the Hawaiian kingdoms first census and whose ancestors likely still survive today.
It is not simply indigenous people who can enter the realm of folklore and myth, however. Consider the way Western culture has treated the gypsies in its folktales and movies. Imagine what would have happened if gypsies had vanished before Western cultures had gained high literacy rates, before there had been anyone to document the reality rather than the fantasy. Indeed, even with the reality, available people still tend to think of gypsies as magical beings. It seems strange that magical powers and an advisory roll are assigned to a race of little-known people by those who had their own traditions of witchcraft and fortunetelling. There are Romanian witches as well as the cunning folk of England, and yet we still choose to feature the gypsies in their mysterious roll. This, however, seems to be the way of humans– to dehumanize certain peoples as fairy-like beings. For once again, it’s not just Europeans who are guilty of presuming some nomadic people to be magical. Indeed, the people of Greenland believed that the Vikings were literally descended from dogs. And when the Europeans first showed up to the Americas, it was believed that they were god-like beings. Refugees, explorers, and nomads as with indigenous people can be treated strangely. They like everyone can die and become fairies in myths or be sucked into the fairy realm, and there likely isn’t a single place on the planet that hasn’t had some form of nomadic people travel to it.
Humans do not become fairies simply as a means of escaping others or through the mythology of others. Fairies also take humans into their world to join them. In Greece, a fairy queen asked one girl:
"Would you not like to be a fairy?...and live with me in this garden where the sun never ceases to shine and where it is summer all the year?” (Gianakoulis, 1930)
Then, despite the girl’s apparent refusals, the fairies took her soul anyways to become one of them leaving behind her body. This is not, however, an isolated incident. Fairies often take humans away, offering them magical candy that will transform them into fairies or items of clothing which can transform them such as scarves and shawls. At times, this is done because the fairies want a servant. Other times fairies want a sexual partner. However, it would also seem that fairies are also after friends and allies, or that they have some other purpose humans cannot discern.
Consider also that some fairies appear to be simply humans who have some garment of clothing that makes them different and unique. In Greek folklore, many fairies are made fairies by a handkerchief which when stolen forces them to become human. In Scottland, selkies have a seal skin which allows them to become ocean fairies or ghost-like creatures which inhabit castles. (Briggs, 1967) Jacob Grimm points out that in some cases, the immortality of fairies comes from the food they eat in fairy land. Further, as previously mentioned, simply entering fairy land and living there would turn some humans into fairies. Humans are simply fairies who do not live within the fairies’ world.