The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Various illnesses, conditions, and afflictions are allegedly caused by fairies, sometimes but not always because of direct contact. In addition to fairy dart (see previously), tumors that arise suddenly, as well as paralysis, are described as “fairy blast” or “fairy stroke” in Ireland.
Fairy-associated illnesses are not restricted to Irish tradition: in Hungary, for instance, typical fairy illnesses include muteness, paralysis, and “shrinking,” which perhaps describes stroke.
Irish fairy doctors traditionally acquired the gift of healing directly from fairies or from changelings, understood to serve as representatives of the fairies. Many fairy doctors were returned changelings themselves.
Similar tales are told of children stolen away by the Congolese magician spirit, Simbi. See DIVINE WITCH: Simbi.
The most distinguished and renowned fairy doctors are those whom the fairies love. Often these are the children for whom changelings were exchanged. The human child lives with the fairies, usually for seven years, then returns full of fairy lore and craft and able to retain contact with the fairies.
There is also a theory that Irish fairy doctors are the descendants of once socially prominent Druids, especially female Druids (the drui-ban) who post-Christianity evolved into independent practitioners. Both male and female fairy doctors exist but the Church traditionally reserved its severest condemnation for female fairy doctors, who were accused of being unfeminine and engaging in behavior unseemly for women. Indeed, many did drink, smoke, gamble, and look men straight in the eyes. They were also suspected of maintaining female-friendly Pagan traditions more than were male fairy doctors.
Balkan fairy doctors serve four-year apprenticeships with fairies who teach them herbalism. Even after returning to their communities, doctors periodically visit the fairies, who offer further instruction in exchange for information about local people and events.
Disapproval from the Church was not the only hurdle facing Irish fairy doctors. They were perceived as competition by medical doctors. Fairy doctors didn’t only treat fairy-related conditions: they also treated common physical maladies, serving as bonesetters and preparing herbal salves, tinctures, and balms. Many were skilled midwives. They traditionally did not charge for prayers, charms, and incantations but did for herbal remedies. Clients were expected to pay in silver, although obviously this was not always possible.
Fairy doctors are not restricted to Ireland or Celtic regions. The fairy magicians of Central and Eastern Europe (see page 450) incorporate many of the skills of the fairy doctor. They too learn directly from the fairies, although here there was greater (or at least more openly acknowledged) incorporation of shamanic techniques like voluntary possession.
Fairy doctors sometimes achieved great renown:
Biddy Early (1798—April 1874), née Biddy O’Connor (or Connors), known as the “Wise Woman of County Clare,” was born at Faha, near Kilanea, County Clare. At the age of 16 she apparently moved by herself to either Ayle or Carheen, where she lived in an outhouse and contracted herself out as a servant. Her fortunes rose, although ultimately she died in abject poverty.
She had a complex romantic and marital history, being married at least four times including once to a much younger man late in her life, whom she was accused of “glamouring” (see DICTIONARY: Glamour).
As a healer, she was honest enough to tell people when nothing could be done for them, although she allegedly performed miracles.
Biddy Early appeared in court at Ennis in 1865. The local clergy hated her. She ran card schools and was allegedly a great card player. There were rumors of alcohol abuse as well, although, as usual, all reports come from outsiders, not from Biddy herself. She had a powerful local reputation and many stories were collected about Biddy after her death. Famously, Biddy Early possessed a small blue bottle, which was either won in a game of cards with a fairy man or presented to her at a fairy fort (see page 450) by the ghost of her husband. She was never without this bottle, however it disappeared upon her death.
Maurice Griffin, a fairy doctor of Kerry, was by profession a cow herder, the old sacred animal of the Pagan Irish gods. According to legend, Griffin could cure animals with his gaze. He allegedly gained his powers of healing by drinking milk from a cow that had eaten grass touched by what is described as “fairy cloud” or “fairy foam” (a cloudlike white foamy substance fell from the sky; a cow licked it up or ate the grass upon which it melted, depending on version). He achieved great local renown as a prophet as well as a healer. Tales of Maurice Griffin may be found in Jeremiah Curtin’s book Tales of the Fairies and of the Ghost World, published in 1895.
Murough O’Lee, a renowned healer, lived in Connemara. He allegedly fell asleep one day in a fairy fort. When he awoke, he was in Fairyland where he lived for a year. The fairies taught him healing arts. Before he went home, the fairies gave him a book that they said contained cures for all diseases; however, Murough was forbidden to use the book—or even to open it—for seven years.
He held out for three. A severe epidemic caused him to break down and open the book. Nothing bad happened. However, because the full seven years hadn’t passed, he was never able to perform all the cures, only some of them.
See also Fairy Magician, Fairy Witch.