Fairies have a pretty good public image. They’re widely regarded as good creatures, since they’re small, delicate, and magical. But in European folklore, they were often considered quite malevolent. The wikipedia article on fairies notes the belief in fairy kidnapping:
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. Consumption (tuberculosis) was sometimes blamed on the fairies forcing young men and women to dance at revels every night, causing them to waste away from lack of rest. Fairies riding domestic animals, such as cows or pigs or ducks, could cause paralysis or mysterious illnesses.
And apparently, the belief in fairy kidnapping created an opportunity for con artists [Source]. So-called ‘fairy shysters’ were sharp swindlers who, in the nineteenth and twentieth century, went around taking innocent and usually vulnerable men and women for ‘a ride.’ Consider the following story from an Irish folklorist:
A young man died suddenly on May Eve while he was lying asleep under a hay-rick, and the parents and friends knew immediately that he had been carried off to the fairy palace in the great moat of Granard. So a renowned fairy man was sent for, who promised to have him back in nine days. Meanwhile [the fairy man] desired that food and drink of time best should be left daily for the young man at a certain place on the moat. This was done, and time food always disappeared, by which they knew time young man was living, and came out of the moat nightly for the provisions left for him by his people.
The fairy man gets off to a good start. The logic behind this act is, of course, that the young man will not have to eat fairy food: that would see him permanently imprisoned in fairy land, Persephone-style. Instead, the fairy man presumably got to eat to his heart’s content while the mourning parents looked on. The fairy man also needs to bring a young man back from the dead though: a harder task, but not, as we shall see, an impossible one.
Now on the ninth day a great crowd assembled to see time young man brought back from Fairyland. And in time stood the fairy doctor performing his incantations by means of fire and a powder which he threw into the flames that caused a dense grey smoke to arise. Then, taking off his hat, and holding a key in his hand, he called out three times in a loud voice, ‘Come forth, come forth, come forth!’ On which a shrouded figure slowly rose up in time midst of the smoke, and a voice was heard answering, ‘Leave me in peace; I am happy with my fairy bride, and my parents need not weep for me, for I shall bring them good luck, and guard them from evil evermore.’ Then the figure vanished and the smoke cleared, and the parents were content, for they believed the vision, and having loaded the fairy-man with presents, they sent him away home. [Source]
[Image Caption: ’Manners and customs of the Irish Peasantry: The fairy doctor’ by E. Fitzpatrick. 1859]