The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Vila, Wila, Veles, Veela, Víly
Vila are shape-shifting, dancing, forest spirits. The many spellings of their name indicates how widespread they are throughout the Balkans, Central and Eastern Europe.
Vila frequently manifest as swans, horses, snakes or wolves. Most famously they appear as beautiful women with long hair. Sometimes they dance naked; sometimes they dress in diaphanous white. They are magical dancers, skilled healers, and witches.
Vila are guardians of the forest and its animals and will punish hunters who fail to perform sufficient spiritual rituals. They are also guardians of women and allegedly punish men who betray women or leave them waiting at the altar. This legend is the basis of the still popular nineteenth-century ballet Giselle.
Some identify Vila as Valkyries let loose in the forest because of the resemblance of their names, their shared associations with death, and both are closely identified with wolves and swans.
Vila, on the other hand, don’t seem to worry about marriage. An all-female society, they occasionally have children fathered by human men. They teach magical and shamanic arts to women as well as to those men whom they favor.
They seem to prefer passive-aggressive modes of punishment. First the Vila seduce men with their beauty and charm, luring them deeper into the forest and encouraging them to join their dance. When the men tire and have enough, or think they’ll move on to activities beyond dancing, they realize they’re unable to stop: the Vila dance them to death. Other legends suggest no seduction is needed; men wandering into the wrong neck of the wood suddenly find themselves compelled to dance, as in the Tarantella or St Vitus Dance. Again, the dance only stops with death.
Fear of the Vila inspired the phrase “that gives me the willies.” Such legends inspired Fleur Delacour in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Sometimes dancing has nothing to do with it: other legends describe men who chance upon Vila in the forest and, enchanted, fall hopelessly in love forever. Their love is unrequited and so the men waste away, eventually dying.
There are no legends regarding Vila punishing or killing women. Instead, women sometimes join the Vila in the forest to dance and receive instruction in herbalism and other magical arts.
In Slavonia, Vila live in mountain caves where people once left offerings of flowers for them. In Bulgaria, Vila ride deer, using snakes as bridles. Both, of course, are creatures that transform themselves, shedding antlers and skin.
See ANIMALS: Snakes, Wolves; CREATIVE ARTS: Dance: Tarantella, Literature: Harry Potter.
Having looked at the different types of fairies, we will now explore various topics associated with fairies and fairy-witchcraft.