To understand European’s original fairy faiths we must begin by finding the origin of the European peoples – by tracing their linguistic and mythological beliefs beginning with an examination of ancient Europe's mythology about how the world began. This after all is the beginning of the world in which fairies were such an important part that they were considered to be the spirits of everything within the earth; the rocks, the soil, and mountains.
Germanic, Scandinavian and Indian Mythology states that in the beginning before there were fairies there was chaos. Out of this chaos sprang forth the first creature. But this creature was not a god; instead, he was the grandparent of the gods. For Indians, this being was named Purusha, while in Norse he was called Ymir. In both tales, this first being was eventually killed and in both tales their bodies were then used to make the world. Their bones became the mountains, their blood became the seas, and their flesh became the earth. From Ymir’s flesh rose the trees and dwarfs of Norse and Germanic mythology. So it is that the fairies of ancient myth, the spirits of the trees, the mountains, and the oceans, were born from the first being’s body. Furthermore, these trees eventually produced the humans in European Mythology. The Indians however believe that humans came directly from Purusha’s flesh and that each caste grew out of different parts of his body. Though seemingly different, these two religions on opposite side of the world share a linguistic history and have the same basic creation myth.
When one examines the stories of creation across the globe - from Ireland to India and as far reaching as Japan - we quickly discover that it is almost never the first being to come into existence that rules the universe. Instead, the beings that come to rule the universe came into existence much later and are often generations removed from the first being.
In fact, these later deities would often slay their divine ancestor– the first being to come into existence, in order to replace him.
This set of creation myths shows us two things; first it shows us that the deities of mythology were vulnerable; that just as they had slain the first being - their grandparent - they too could be slain and displaced by their decedents. This danger creates tension between them and humanity as well as between them and the semi-divine fairies who can, in theory, replace them just as they replaced their ancestor.
Secondly the similarities between these creation myths show us that even after thousands of years, Europeans retained much of their ancestral understanding of the world.
It’s important to keep in mind that Europeans do not come from Europe. Instead we see two primary linguistic groups of people within Europe who brought with them two cultural and religious ideas which existed before Christianity and which remained in the belief in fairies even after Christianity came. These two peoples are;
The people who share Uralic or Finno-Ugric languages which settled in Finland, Northeastern Europe as the Baltic peoples, parts of Russia, the Sami people of Northern Scandinavia and more recently in Hungry. Their fairy faith still survives among some of the Mari people of Russia who retain their pagan faith and the Komi people of Northern Russia who retain many of their original beliefs and a number of other people within the same language and cultural families in Siberia.
Next some four to five thousand years ago the Indo-Europeans entered Europe and over time came to replace most all of the native Europeans languages such that the Indo-Europeans linguistic and religious influence came to dominate the Greeks, Romans, Germans, Celts, Scandinavians, Russians in Europe and the Kalasha peoples (in Pakistan), Vedic Peoples, and Proto-Iranians in Asia. Even though their faith has vanished from Europe there is a lot we can learn about them because the Romans and Greeks were and are both Indo-European peoples and they have each left behind a number of records about their respective religions which can help us come to understand these peoples. Additional records have been made of the Germanic and Icelandic Sagas and Epics. Further the Kalash peoples of Pakistan and the Peoples of India still retain a belief in fairy like creatures. Finally Eliade (1958) believed that there was a close connection between the Indo-European and Tengriism another fairy faith of the Asiatic Steppes.
There is an advantage to these relationships for those who seek to understand fairies, because while the beliefs of any one European people have faded into obscurity, there remain remnants of those beliefs within each European land, remnants which can be puzzled and pieced together and as we travel further East away from Europe, we find that the original systems of religion - from which European ideas of fairies came - are still intact and practiced. And while these beliefs have changed as they traveled across the world - and despite the fact that the people who traveled from India little resemble the people of Europe - we can still see a connection in their beliefs supported by the fact that they share a common mother languages such that these connections allow us to fill some of the many gaps and holes which have appeared in our understanding of European Fairies.