Tinkerbell. Leprechauns. The Keebler Elves. We think of fairies as cute, harmless sprites of children's stories or Disney movies. But in the original folktales, fairies are amoral and delight in tricking humans, leading them astray, harming them—even killing them. The term "fairy" also encompasses a wide range of supernatural creatures including goblins, gremlins, trolls, and monsters even more sinister. If you think fairies are silly characters that matter only to little girls, check out this list of fairies from around the world that could do some serious damage.
The Unseelie Court
Even the familiar fairies of the British Isles aren’t as benign as they seem. The people of Scotland divide the fairy realm into the Seelie Court—good and benevolent fairies like elves and nymphs—and the Unseelie Court, their evil counterparts. Unseelie fairies steal from humans, kill their cattle, and beat them. They even carry away healthy babies and replace them with their own abandoned, grotesque children, which we call changelings. While good fairies sometimes cause mischief when not treated with respect or offered gifts, Unseelie fairies need no provocation to assault and even kill unlucky travelers. Morgan Le Fay, half-sister to King Arthur, was sometimes said to be a member—or even leader—of the Unseelie Court.
Asia has its share of fairies as well. The Japanese kappas are particularly nasty. They’re half the size of humans, have reptilian skin, and smell like fish. They live in rivers and lakes, and wait for horses, cattle, or people to pass by. They drag their prey into the water and kill them. Then, according to the tales, they do all sorts of horrible things: Eat the flesh, drink the blood, suck out the entrails; supposedly they’re especially fond of livers. They have no qualms with dragging children to a watery death as well. Kappas do have one weakness, though. Their heads are bowl-shaped, with a life-giving fluid sloshing around inside. If you can get a kappa to spill the fluid—by making it bow, for example—it will grow weak and retreat back to the water.
In India we find the rakshasa, who are so thoroughly evil and vicious they could be considered demons. They’re ugly, with fangs and claws, and can fly. They eat people and drink their blood. They can also change their shape into that of a beautiful woman—the better to lure men to their doom. The Hindu epics are full of stories of rakshasa terrorizing villages, being slain by heroes, and occasionally—like all good fairies—falling in love with humans. They haunt cemeteries and are most powerful during the darkness of the new moon. The king of the rakshasa had ten heads, but was killed by the epic hero Rama.
In the Brazilian rainforest you’ll find the Chullachaqui, a singular fairy. He’s short and ugly, with one leg longer than the other, and one foot either backwards or a hoof. He leads travelers astray in the forest by appearing as a prey animal or a loved one and taking them to their doom. Smart explorers can discover the truth by looking for his mismatched feet. In one story, he gives a man a magic flute that summons game animals, but he is only supposed to use it when he’s truly in need. When the man becomes greedy and blows the flute to attract more animals than he needs, the flute turns into a snake and fatally bites him.
Back to Scotland we go for a creature you’ve probably never heard of—the fachan. These gruesome fairies have one eye, one leg, and one arm, and a mane of black feathers, though they can’t fly and are actually jealous of fairies that can. Their appearance is so frightening that just looking at it can cause a fatal heart attack. They hate everyone and everything, and attack trespassers by leaping at them with a spiked club or chain. One fachan destroyed an entire orchard with this weapon. The fachan would be the perfect candidate for the Unseelie Court if they obeyed any authority or socialized with other fairies.
Like the Chullachaqui, the Nocnitsa—or Night Hag—is a one-of-a-kind creature. Roaming through Poland, Russia, and the Slavic lands, she creeps into your house while you’re sleeping and sits on your chest to steal your life energy, somewhat like a vampire. She goes after children, too. Parents will sometimes place a knife in their children’s crib to keep the Nocnitsa away (like other fairies, she may be repulsed by iron), a dangerous act that shows just how far people will go to avoid the Night Hag’s clutches. She’s particularly drawn to those sleeping on their back with their hands on their chest, like a corpse. She lives in the forest, and smells of dirt and moss. Her voice is a horrible screech, and she can even torment you in your dreams. She’s about as far from Tinkerbell as you can get.
Did I leave out your favorite scary fairy? Add it to the comments.