The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
The Sicilian Fairy Cult
Sicily was ruled by Spain between 1479 and 1713. Spanish Inquisition archives contain accounts of trials of Sicilian witches occurring between 1579 and 1651. These transcripts are fascinating as they reveal the possible existence of genuine metaphysical practice.
The official Church position at this stage was that witchcraft was Christian heresy and that witches worshipped the devil. Those charged in Sicily argued that this was not the case and attempted to explain their true activities, which they did not perceive as diabolical. Theirs was a fairy cult.
Trials were characterized by actual torture as well as constant threat of torture; it’s impossible to clearly distinguish genuine testimony from that uttered under duress.
Testimony documents beliefs about the Donna di Fuora, a fairy-like being who accompanied witches on their night flights. Witches joined fairies for pleasure-balls and invoked their presence for purposes of healing.
Members of the fairy society claimed to heal misfortunes and illness caused by fairies. “Witch’s touch” was the term used in this region for illnesses whose root cause derived from offending fairies. These illnesses manifested in various forms, ranging from “indisposition” to epilepsy. Notably, in the ancient Mediterranean, epilepsy was strongly identified with Hecate who both healed and wielded it as an instrument of punishment against those who offended her. (See DIVINE WITCH: Hecate.)
These fairy healers conducted nocturnal meetings in which they attempted to persuade the fairies to remove the illness or affliction. As part of the ritual, the family of the afflicted was obliged to offer a ritual meal in the patient’s bedroom.
According to trial testimony, an offering table was laid with bread, honey-cake, sweetmeats, water, and wine. The table was beautifully set with napkins, utensils, and so forth. The fairy healer decorated the ailing person’s room, perfuming the air and covering the bed with red cloth. She alone awaits the fairies, who arrive when everyone else is asleep.
The fairy healer does not sleep: she paces through the room, actively petitioning the fairies, talking with them, offering them food and beverages, pleading with them, and playing her tambourine near the ailing person.
Humans were not the only ones vulnerable to witch’s touch. If donkeys and horses were struck, fairy doctors conducted rituals in stables; if crops were afflicted, rituals were held in the field.
Based on trial transcripts, members of these secret fairy cults were poor. Those charged with membership, heresy, and witchcraft identified in trial transcripts included the following:
Farm laborers and their wives
Fishermen and their wives
Workmen and their wives
There were more women than men. The majority of those accused were practicing wise-women, allegedly skilled in magical healing and witchcraft. Others identified in trial transcripts include a shoemaker and his wife, a deacon, two Franciscan begging nuns, a tailor, a charismatic healer, a laundress, two prostitutes, some widows, and two “Gypsy” women.
According to the Inquisition trial records, Sicilian fairy cults were organized into companies. Attending fairies were described as beautiful women dressed in black or white with cats’ paws, horses’ hooves or “round feet.” Some have pigs’ tails. Women, fairy and human, danced together while a male fairy minstrel played a lute or similar instrument.
In 1588, a fisherman’s wife from Palermo confessed to the Inquisition that in a dream, she and her company rode on male goats through the air to a country called Benevento, which belonged to the Pope, perhaps implying that the devil did not have dominion. There the company worshipped a Queen and King who, they were told, would bestow wealth and beauty upon members of the company. The King and Queen would also give them handsome young men with whom they would have fabulous sex. After rituals of worship, the company joined in celebrations of feasting, drinking, and sex.
The fisherman’s wife also told the Inquisition about another witches’ assembly entitled “The Seven Fairies.” During the Seven Fairies, witches transformed into animal shape before going out to kill boys and commit mischief and vandalism.
According to trial transcripts, the fisherman’s wife confessed the error of her ways. She said she hadn’t realized her actions were diabolical. According to her, motivation for her actions were pleasure (fun) and because the Queen and King gave her remedies for healing the sick.