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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

7 Warning Signs of a Bad Fairy Source


I am often asked for direction on finding good sources on the subjects of fairies, which is fair because there is a lot of material out there and it ranges from good to terrible. I thought today it might be helpful to offer a very basic outline of what can indicate something is a bad source, or at least one that needs further vetting. Of course these are only my opinions and other people may have different thoughts on this subject but I have found these guidelines work well in vetting the quality of a source on fairies. 

  1. Using Names from Gaming - this is always a big red flag for me, when I see people using terms and names that explicitly come from role playing games or video games when discussing folklore and fairy belief. There are multiple things floating around online being shared as folklore that are actually excerpts from gaming manuals or websites, because people don't realize the excerpt isn't folklore. RPGs follow specific rules of game play which shapes the worldbuilding and lore that they create and this is often contradictory to or incompatible with functional belief.
  2. No Sources - its always a concern when a source doesn't have any sources of their own, unless we are dealing with a purely autobiographical work or anecdotal account. But when the subject is fairies  unless the work is clearly labeled as personal gnosis or experience (which is fine) outside sources are important especially when the work is claiming to describe or write about beings that have a long history in folklore. I always recommend looking at the bibliography of a book first to see what's there. Even if the bibliography seems solid if the text itself doesn't make it clear what sources are being used for what portions of the text its still a problem. I find it enormously frustrating to be reading a book where I can pick out segments of text that are paraphrased or even quoted without properly indicating the source, such as a book that uses a quote from Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries but only says something like 'this is the opinion of a 19th century Irishman in Galway'. Readers should be able to go to the source themselves to verify the part used in the book or further research. 
  3. Blurring Personal Gnosis and Folklore - now to be clear before everyone jumps in and yells at me, I am 100% in favor of personal gnosis and experiences and I think they are vital to the subject of fairies. But what I see a lot of in sources I find problematic is a failure to differentiate between personal gnosis and established folklore which often gives the impression that the personal gnosis is accepted folklore when it isn't. I am of the opinion that its important for authors on this subject to be clear as to what is their own thought or theory and what is found in wider folklore. Switching back and forth between personal opinion and established folklore without any indication of which is which is extremely confusing. 
  4. Claiming To Be The One True Source - claiming folklore is all wrong but the author has some special insight to the truth is another big red flag, not just for a bad source but for larger issues that can lean into cults of personality. There are a huge array of folklore and folk beliefs out there and much of it can be contradictory but its important to understand that diversity means no one is ever necessarily entirely right or wrong in their personal gnosis. When people seek to erase everyone else's experiences and thousands of years of folk belief in favor of their own ideas that should be considered problematic at the very least. 
  5. Plagiarism - there is a shocking amount of plagiarism in printed texts on fairies and on websites, whether that's from people who don't understand how to properly paraphrase or cite a source or people intentionally using someone else's writing. Either way any source that is using someone else's words without credit should not be trusted. 
  6. Fiction - I hate to even have to say this, but here we are. Fiction is not a source for fairy folklore. Despite what some people like to say to dismiss the subject folklore is not the fiction of our ancestors, its the collected beliefs and practices of specific groups which makes it diametrically different than fiction which is not belief but creative storytelling. If you find something interesting in fiction then take it further and research the actual folklore, don't just take the fiction and run with it. 
  7. Anthropocentricism - so this is undeniably my own hobby horse here, but I always tend to mistrust a source that centers humans or implies that humans have all the power and fairies need human protection and care to survive. If you could switch out the word fairies with 'wild birds' and not really effect the text then you are probably looking at one very particular opinion and a view that heavily diminishes and disempowers beings that have long been understood as powerful and possibly dangerous. 


  1. nice article , and a great Shelfie at the end!

  2. There are multiple things floating around online being shared as folklore that are actually excerpts from gaming manuals or websites, because people don't realize the excerpt isn't folklore.

    *cough*, the "Codes" of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, *cough*. Straight from Changeling: the Dreaming. I got tired of correcting it on Tumblr.

    1. yes that is an excellent example and one I have run across ad nauseum as well. The 'glamour is free' line is particularly irritating as I don't understand how that makes any sense at all outside the gaming context

  3. Great information. I am just learning about fairy folklore. This post helps me double check anything I might come across. Thank you.