This term can be used to describe many different magical creatures. In Middle English it is spelled faierie, in Old French it is faerie, and means the land or realm of legendary people of folklore.
They are usually human in appearance. Folklore shows them to be malicious and humans have used various means of protection to keep them away. They would supposedly steal human babies and leave changelings in their place (as mentioned in a previous post). Wings were rarely depicted. They flew by means of magic.
The folk beliefs of faeries included the belief that they were the dead, elementals, demoted angels, demons, humans, a babies’ laugh, or a pagan deity.
Long thought to be pranksters, many taught their children to stay away or avoid them. Sudden death and tuberculosis were once blamed on faeries.
Some ways avoid keeping them away are the use of a cold iron, running water, bells, St. John’s wort, and four leaf clovers. Faery trees and Faery mounds are protected areas today and held in high regard. They can supposedly use magic to disguise their appearance, if need be.
A famous reference to a faerie is in William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”. One of my earliest introductions to them was in the book “Peter Pan”.
During the Victorian era paintings of faeries became popular.
One of my favorite representations of the fae are from Brian Froud, the first of his books I purchased was "Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book". It is breathtaking in its beauty. I highly recommend his works.
This information was found at Wikipedia.