Fairy is a female mythical creature, in Slavic mythology, who lives in nature. Fairies were mostly friendly with people, but they could also be vengeful. This notion of affection and disaffection is normal in mythology, because it is often a case that the affection of creatures and gods is dependent on people and their deeds. They usually lived in forests and by the rivers, and often in the mountains. They got their names based on their habitat – planinkinje (mountain fairies), zagorkinje (hill fairies), vodarkinje (water fairies), brodarkinje (boat fairies) and oblakinje (cloud fairies). Some fairies built their castles in the clouds.
Fairies are imagined as very beautiful, slender girls, with long unbraided hair over their back and breasts. Their hair was mostly blond or red; golden hair is also mentioned. A fairy was not allowed to lose a single hair, because it was believed that her hair is where her strength is. They wore thin white dresses, so they were often called “white fairies” in folk poems. Less frequently, fairies were nude, but in that case their hair covered their breasts. Also, the fairies had wings and wing shields (okrilje). The supernatural power of the fairies was in their wing shields. They would take it off when they bathed in the river. It is probably some kind of clothing that is worn over the wings. If someone managed to steal fairies wing shield he would become her master and she would have to listen to him. People who stole fairy’s wing shield would marry the fairy, but they would have to be careful that the fairy does not take her shield back, because then the fairy would be vengeful and would avenge for her humiliation. While a fairy is taking a bath no one was supposed to see her because she would punish him, unless he stole her shield during the occasion. The belief that a part of clothes is connected to the character and the power of the person who is wearing it exists also when it comes to a head shield, i.e. a hat. Namely, it was believed that a hat contained a character of a man, as well as that it shows his position in the society. A man whose hat was taken or stolen was dishonored, and the Đerdap boat-men had a traditio: when an accident occurs on a boat, they throw a hat in the water first as a sacrifice. The vengefulness od the fairies could be awoken if someone challenged her, whereas her affection was earned if someone helped the fairy, for example help her untangle her hair from a bush. Since there were no male fairies as they were exclusively female mythical creatures, they would sometimes have relations with mortals. Folk tales mention goblins as people, mortals, who had relations with a fairy and by that earned some supernatural powers. They would still remain mortals. These people chosen by the fairies were physically strong, mainly mountain shepherds. The transition of power from a fairy to a mortal was also possible in other ways. When a fairy nurses a child, it is believed that the child will grow to have supernatural powers. Here we see the slavic belief in the brotherhood by milk. Namely, it was believed that by lactating, a child gets some of the characteristics of the mother. Also, a fairy could pass over supernatural powers to a man if he did something for her, and there are axamples in poetry of a fairy entering a brotherhood with a man (Vila Ravioila and Marko Kraljević). Fairies often healed the wounds of wounded heroes, because they had a way with plants. When plants are in their natural surrounding they know it well. Fairies were also believed to be able to bring a person back to life.
Fairies were born out of dew or they grew out of flowers. In some regions they are believed to be born the same way as other people, and only later became fairies. A girl fairy had to go through innitiation in order to become a fairy, where the main fairy would give her wing shield, and by that fairy powers. Innitialtion existed with men as well. A girl was considered a woman the first time she participated in a circuit dance. The fairy ceremonies also had circuit dances and whoever stepped on it would be punished. Fairy ceremonies were secret and no one was allowed to see them. Whoever saw fairies dance, bathe or perform some other kind of ceremony could end up with blindness, paralisis or could even end up dead. Locations where fairies held their ceremonies were known and usually contained the word „vila“ in their name, such as Vilin Izvor on the mountain Kom or Viline vode in Belgrade.
Fairies could also transform into certain animals. Usually they transformed into swans, falcons, horses and wolves. We can often see in poems how fairies ride a horse od a deer and go hunting. They had bows and arrows to shoot when someone offends them.
Fairies are definitely the creatures best preserved in the tradition and they were very popular with the people. Vuk Stefanović Karadžić also wrote about them in the book „Vjerovanje stvari kojijeh nema“:
Fairies live in big mountains and around water. A fairy is every young, beautiful girs dressed in a white thin dress, and with a long unbraided hair falling down her back and breasts. They will do no harm to anyone unless they are offended (if someone steps on their circuit dance or into their dinner or offends them in some other way), and when they do get offended they punish the person who offended them in various ways, by shooting their leg or arm, or both legs or arms, or in the heart so he dies on the spot.
Translated by Zoran Božinović