Did fairies have kings or queens? Or as a matter of fact, did they even have gods and goddesses they might have worshipped to obtain their powers?
The answer is not always straight forward. This is because fairies have a very, very long mythological history where most fairy tales usually mix and match different elements to create something unique. Thus, some fairies do indeed have queens and goddesses, while others do not and live a solitary life in far away places of the world.
In English culture, the most famous fairy queens are Morgana le Fay, Queen Titania and to a lesser extend, Queen Mab. Scottish folklore also mentions a fairy queen by the name of Nicnevin. Meanwhile, in Greek mythology, Artemis and Amphitrite are the closest thing to a fairy queen.
Morgana Le Fay
Morgan le Fay, also known as Morgana, Morgaine, Morgana la Fey, and other variants, is a significant character in the Arthurian legends.
Her character varies widely in different stories, but she is generally portrayed as a powerful enchantress, often with both healing and destructive capabilities.
Morgan le Fay is frequently associated with Avalon (also known as the Isle of Apples), a mystical island often linked with immortality, healing, and other magical properties. Avalon is sometimes described as the land of the fairies. In these accounts, Morgan le Fay is portrayed as a fairy queen or ruler of this fairy realm.
In other stories, she is King Arthur’s half-sister and a student of Merlin. She is often depicted as an antagonist to Arthur, though her character is complex and can’t be easily categorized as wholly good or evil.
Her association with magic, mystery, and the otherworldly made it easy to connect her to the fairy realm.
Even her name, “le Fay”, comes from the French faierie, itself derived from the Latin fata, meaning “fate”.
Queen Mab was arguably the first queen of the fairies, at least in English literature.
She often appeared in English folklore of the time and is notably mentioned in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
There, Mercutio delivers a monologue about “Queen Mab, the fairies’ midwife,” who is a mischievous figure that influences people’s dreams.
Mab is often depicted as a small, even microscopic, fairy who executes pranks on sleeping people, causing them to dream.
Later, in the 17th century, Michael Drayton portrayed Mab as the queen of the fairies in his narrative poem “Nymphidia.” In these older traditions, Mab is portrayed as a more capricious and unpredictable figure, reflecting a view of fairies as whimsical and mischievous.
At least in English literature and folklore, Queen Titania eventually replaced Mab as the most famous queen of the fairies.
The first mention of Titania as the queen of the fairies comes from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” written in the late 16th century.
In it, she is the wife of Oberon, the king of the fairies, and together, their joint rule ensures peace in the faerie realm.
Although both Mab and Titania are described as Fairy queens, the two are quite different from one another.
Queen Mab is described as small and mischievous, while Titania is a grand, regal figure who wields significant power over the natural world and other fairies.
While Titania also has a capricious side, her character is more complex and human-like than Mab’s.
Shakespeare’s portrayal of fairies as mysterious, enchanting, and deeply connected with nature had a profound influence on later fairy lore, and Titania has since become one of the most iconic fairy queens in literature.
Nicnevin is a figure from Scottish folklore, considered by some to be the queen of fairies or witches. Her name is derived from the Gaelic phrase “nighean na h-àth,” which could mean “daughter of the divine” or “daughter of Scathach” (a legendary Scottish warrior).
In some accounts, she rides through the night with her followers in the Wild Hunt, a common motif in northern European folklore.
The Wild Hunt is a spectral procession or chase that portends catastrophe or death to those who witness it. Nicnevin’s connection with fairies is less benevolent or whimsical compared to other fairy queens; instead, she’s often associated with darker aspects of the supernatural.
Greek goddesses and queens of fairies
The nymphs of Greek mythology are the rough equivalents of European medieval fairies and, according to some scholars, are the mythological ancestors of fairies.
Compared to fairies, however, nymphs were generally much more kindly disposed towards humanity and usually represented the more benevolent aspects of nature.
Their powers and status were also closer to those of gods than spirits, since many nymphs were lovers and even spouses of notable deities.
The Nereid Nymphs were ruled by Poseidon and Amphitrite
The Nereids were the sea nymphs in Greek mythology, known for their beauty and benevolent nature. They were particularly worshipped by sailors and seafarers, who thought they assisted in navigation or helped those in distress.
There are traditionally said to be 50 Nereids, and they are the daughters of Nereus (an ancient sea god known as the “Old Man of the Sea”) and Doris, an Oceanid. The most famous of the Nereids is probably Thetis, the mother of Achilles.
The Nereids dwell in the Mediterranean Sea and were believed to accompany Poseidon, the god of the sea. This is because Poseidon held dominion over all creatures in his realm, including the Nereids.
Another important connection is that Poseidon’s wife, Amphitrite, is a Nereid herself. Thus, through her marriage to Poseidon, Amphitrite could be considered the queen of the Nereids.
Artemis was the protector of the Dryad and Oread Nymphs
Dryads and Oreads are two other classes of nymphs from Greek mythology, alongside the Nereid and Naiad nymphs.
Dryads are tree nymphs. Each Dryad is born with a certain tree over which she watches. A Dryad lives within her tree, which dies with her; if the tree is cut down, the Dryad dies with it. They are specifically associated with oak trees, although the term has come to be used for all tree nymphs.
Oreads, on the other hand, are mountain nymphs. They are known to inhabit mountains, hills, and ravines. The word “Oread” comes from the Greek “ὄρος” (óros), meaning mountain.
Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, the wilderness, wild animals, and chastity, has a deep and intimate connection with the nymphs. This connection appears many times in myths and legends, as well as in ancient art.
As a nature goddess, Artemis is often seen in the company of nymphs, including both Dryads and Oreads. These nymphs accompany Artemis on her hunting trips, participate in her dances, and are often part of her retinue.
Greek mythology doesn’t explicitly claim Artemis is the queen (or even leader) of the nymphs. Instead, Artemis is portrayed as protecting these nymphs or avenging any harm done to them.
For example, there is a famous story about the hunter Actaeon, who came across Artemis while she was bathing with her nymphs. As punishment for seeing her naked, Artemis transformed Actaeon into a stag, and his own hunting dogs killed him.
Thus, Artemis’s relationship with the Dryads and Oreads can be more closely described as one of companionship, protection, and mutual respect. She is closely associated with them due to her dominion over the wilderness and her role as the protector of young girls and women, including nymphs.
Urvashi: Hindu mythology’s fairy queen
The approximate equivalent to fairies in Hindu mythology are called Apsaras.
The Apsaras are female spirits possessing enchanting beauty and great talent in song and dance.
However, the Apsaras did not undergo purification and so could not marry gods. Instead, they usually resided at Indra’s court, where they entertained the gods in one way or another or acted as divine messengers.
Much like European fairies, Apsaras are often associated with nature, beauty, and the arts, and they possess the ability to change their shape at will.
Although Hindu mythology says there are 600 million such Apsaras, only one of them has been given a name: Urvashi.
Urvashi is said to be the most beautiful of the Apsaras and plays many important roles in numerous tales found in Hindu mythology.
For example, Urvashi occupies a central place in Indra’s court, is a spiritual mother to two of Hinduism’s most revered sages, and was the wife of the demigod Pururavas.
As a result of her great status, Urvashi can be considered the closest thing to a Hindu Queen of the Fairies.
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