The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Flies play various roles in witchcraft: as witches’ familiars; as witches’ weapons; as the vehicle for the shaman’s wandering soul. Flies were anciently associated with the mysteries of birth and death. Once upon a time, especially in the Middle East, flies were understood as souls of the dead searching for new incarnations. Souls were believed able to travel between lives in insect form. The Philistine deity Baal-Zebub, an aspect of the masculine fertility spirit Baal, is Lord of the Flies, the Shepherd of Souls. He would eventually become demonized and transformed into Beelzebub, a synonym for Satan.
Flies also represent the shaman’s journeying soul, whether literally or figuratively. Flies were envisioned as flying in and out of the entranced shaman’s open mouth. Should the fly be unable to return, the soul might be stuck in limbo, the shaman forever unable to awaken from the trance.
Flies may also be spirits in disguise and not particularly nice ones either. According to Arabic legend, King Solomon once transformed a mass of malevolent djinn into flies, imprisoning three million of them within a black glass bottle, which was then hidden inside a well near Babylon. Centuries later, local people searching for treasure came upon the bottle and broke it, releasing the flies/djinn, who were free but, unable to break Solomon’s transformation spell, were more spiteful and malevolent than ever.
Flies serve as witches’ familiars, especially in Scandinavia. Flies journey out to do the witch’s bidding (not always malevolent) and scout out information. Those imprisoned on accusations of witchcraft were often inadvertently betrayed by flies or other insects. Although they might emphatically deny the charges, even under torture, witch-hunters would claim that the presence of persistent, hovering flies was proof that the person had a familiar and was thus a witch. Of course, considering the standards of sanitation and cleanliness in a medieval prison, plus the presence of blood and pus from untreated, infected wounds incurred during torture, how could there not be flies?
Sometimes accused witches died before they could be executed, acquitted or otherwise released, whether because of suicide, miscalculated torture or deliberate murder. Because witch trials were legal proceedings, none of those scenarios was officially acceptable. The truth of the situation was often hushed up by blaming it on the flies; allegedly Beelzebub had sent emissaries in the form of flies to help the witches “escape” judgment.
Flies are often perceived negatively within traditional witchcraft.
Saami shamans allegedly kept flies in magic boxes to be sent out as desired to cause injury, or at least so claimed their non-Saami neighbors.
Not all flies are bewitched flies but the ones that are may be fatal: throughout Tanzania, special flies allegedly attack and kill victims at night as directed by the sorcerers who control them.
According to Pueblo Indian folklore, witches control flies and other insects, directing them to nefarious, destructive purposes.