Some 19th-century archaeologists thought they had found underground rooms in the Orkney islands resembling the Elfland in Childe Rowland.

Their green clothing and underground homes were credited to their need to hide and camouflage themselves from hostile humans, and their use of magic a necessary skill for combating those with superior weaponry.

One popular story described how, when the angels revolted, God ordered the gates of heaven shut: those still in heaven remained angels, those in hell became demons, and those caught in between became fairies.

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Carole Silvers and others suggest that the fascination of English antiquarians arose from a reaction to greater industrialization, and loss of folkways.

Fairies are generally described as human in appearance and having magical powers.

Any form of sudden death might stem from a fairy kidnapping, with the apparent corpse being a wooden stand-in with the appearance of the kidnapped person.

In Scottish folklore, fairies are divided into the Seelie Court, the more beneficently inclined (but still dangerous) fairies, and the Unseelie Court, the malicious fairies.

According to Thomas Keightley, the word "fairy" derives from the Latin fata, and is from the Old French form faerie, describing "enchantment".

Other forms are the Italian fata, and the Provençal "fada".

According to King James in his dissertation Daemonologie, the term "faries" was used to describe illusory spirits (demonic entities) that prophesy, consort, and transport individuals they served.

In medieval times, it was believed that a witch or sorcerer who had a compact with a familiar spirit to serve them could receive these types of revelations or use them to perform various tasks.

Some pranks ascribed to them, such as tangling the hair of sleepers into "Elf-locks", stealing small items or leading a traveler astray, are generally harmless.