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Fairyland (Early Modern English: Faerie; Scots: Elfame (Scottish mythology; cf. Old Norse: Álfheimr (Norse mythology)) in English and Scottish folklore is the fabulous land or abode of fairies or fays.[1] Old French faierie (Early Modern English faerie) referred to an illusion or enchantment, the land of the faes. Modern English (by the 17th century) fairy transferred the name of the realm of the fays to its inhabitants,[2] e.g., the expression fairie knight in Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene refers to a "supernatural knight" or a "knight of Faerie" but was later re-interpreted as referring to a knight who is "a fairy".[3]


Fairyland may be referred to simply as Fairy or Faerie, though that usage is an archaism. It is often the land ruled by the "Queen of Fairy", and thus anything from fairyland is also sometimes described as being from the "Court of the Queen of Elfame" or from the Seelie court in Scottish folklore. The Scots word elfame or elphyne "fairyland"[4] has other variant forms, attested in Scottish witch trials, but Elf-hame or Elphame with the -hame stem (meaning 'home' in Scots) were conjectural readings by Pitcairn.

In Scots texts[edit]

One of the entrances to the Cleeves Cove cave system, the "Elf Hame" of the Bessie Dunlop story.

Records of the Scottish witch trials reveal that many initiates claimed to have had congress with the "Queen of Elfame" and her retinue. On November 8, 1576, midwife Bessie Dunlop, a resident of Dalry, Scotland, was accused of sorcery and witchcraft. She answered her accusers that she had received tuition from Thomas Reid, a former barony officer who had died at the Battle of Pinkie 30 years earlier and from the Queen of "Court of Elfame" that lay nearby.[5] It resulted in a conviction and she was burned at the stake[6] in 1576.

Allison Peirson was burned as a witch in 1588 for conversing with the Queen of Elfame and for prescribing magic charms and potions (Byre Hills, Fife, Scotland).[7] This same woman (styled "Alison Pearson") is also featured in Robert Sempill's ballad (1583) where she is said to have been in a fairy-ride.[8][9][10] Sempill's piece mentions "Elphyne" glossed as "Elfland"[11] or "Fairyland".[4]

In the medieval verse romance and the Scottish ballad of Thomas the Rhymer, the title character is spirited away by a female supernatural being. Although identified by commentators as the Queen of Fairies, the texts refrain from specifically naming her or her domain except in ballad version A, in which she is referred to as the Queen of Elfland. Poet and novelist Robert Graves published his alteration of the ballad, replacing her name with "Queen of Elphame":

I'm not the Queen of Heaven, Thomas,
That name does not belong to me;
I am but the Queen of fair Elphame
Come out to hunt in my follie.

Elfhame or Elfland is portrayed in various ways in these ballads and stories, most commonly as mystical and benevolent but sometimes as sinister and wicked. The mysteriousness of the land and its otherworldly powers are a source of skepticism and distrust in many tales. Additional journeys to the realm include the fairy tale "Childe Rowland", which presents a particularly negative view of the land.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "fairyland". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  2. ^ "A Study of Fairy Tales: Chapter IV. The History of Fairy Tales". Internet Sacred Text Archive.
  3. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1964). "On Fairy-Stories". Tree and Leaf. George Allen and Unwin. Fairy, as a noun more or less equivalent to elf, is a relatively modern word, hardly used until the Tudor period. The first quotation in the Oxford Dictionary (the only one before A.D. 1450) is significant. It is taken from the poet Gower: as he were a faerie. But this Gower did not say. He wrote as he were of faerie, "as if he were come from faerie".
  4. ^ a b DOST (Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue) entry, retrieved using the electronic "Dictionary of the Scots Language". Archived from the original on July 10, 2013. Retrieved October 14, 2013.
  5. ^ Pitcairn (1833a), pp. 49-, 53, 56, 57.
  6. ^ Pitcairn (1833a), p. 58.
  7. ^ Pitcairn (1833b), pp. 162–165.
  8. ^ Pitcairn (1833b), p. 163n.
  9. ^ Henderson & Cowan (2001), p. 166.
  10. ^ Sempill (1891), p. 365.
  11. ^ Cranstoun, James (July 5, 1893). Satirical Poems of the Time of the Reformation. Society. p. 320 – via Internet Archive.