Just as the word witch is frequently used to encompass all sorts of occult or spiritual practitioners, the word fairy is often used as a catch-all for all kinds of disparate spiritual entities. Like “witch” “fairy” is used by different people to express different concepts. Fairies, thus, can be very difficult to discuss unless one determines exactly how the word is being defined.
The English word “fairy” has historically been used to encompass the following:
Miniature winged flower fairies or devas—each individual flower has a petite presiding spirit. These tiny, charming spirits ride butterflies, birds, and dragonflies and are the prototype of what many modern people understand as “fairies.” Because of their small stature, they seem sweet and harmless; however, flower fairies share the essence of their respective flowers, thus not all flower fairies are gentle: beautiful, poisonous wolfsbane possesses flower fairies, too.
Human-sized fairy folk are the subject of a high proportion of fairy tales and folk ballads. In stories at least, fairies are often aggressive, stealing human children and adults. Those who assume that all fairies are two inches tall sometimes find these stories confusing.
Different types of spirits from all over the world with distinct names in their own languages are commonly categorized as “fairies” in English translation, as if “fairy” was a generic term for “spirit.” In English, all these spirits are known as fairies, sometimes spelled faeries or fées. Thus one speaks of “Hungarian fairies” or “Russian fairies,” rather than Tündér and Rusalka, distinctly different types of spirits and both distinguishable from sidhe, the Irish fairies.
Fairy is used as a generic term for ancient pre-Christian spirits. In essence, it’s a demotion: deities who’ve refused to fade away (or whose devotees stubbornly cling to them) are removed from the pantheon of gods but permitted a lesser role as “nature spirits.”
Fairy has also been used historically to indicate devotees of pre-Christian spirits. In seventeenth-century England, “fairy” was a synonym for “witch” and/or “pagan practitioner.” This may be the root of the modern usage of “fairy” as a pejorative for homosexual men.
In stories, legends, and fairy tales, witches and fairies are often treated as mirror images of each other: both are powerful beings, predominately female using similar tools—charms, magic wands, and spells. Both are reputedly shape-shifters. Older stories blend the boundaries: not all witches are evil, not all fairies are sparkly and benevolent.
Modern versions of these fairy-tales often take a dualist approach: witches are exclusively malevolent while fairies are exclusively “good.”
Historically this has not been the case. Witches and fairies have been linked for centuries; the dividing line between them has not always been distinct. In many parts of Europe, accusations of “witchcraft” were technically accusations of consorting with fairies: witchcraft was considered synonymous with fairy-craft. Witch-trial testimony from Hungary, Italy, and Scotland indicate that powerful, largely femaleoriented fairy spiritual traditions did exist.
The English word fairy derives from the Old French feie or fée, which in turn derives from the Latin fatua (female seer) and fatum (fate or destiny). This concept is demonstrated with more clarity in Italian, where the word corresponding to fairy is fata. Thus Celtic fairy goddess Morgan le Fay is Fata Morgana in Italy. The Fates may as well be called The Fairies or vice-versa.
This is now largely unfamiliar partly because, in recent years, as fairy tales have become relegated to nursery tales, fairies have become sanitized. To the modern ear, “fairy” often has a whimsical aura, but this was not always the case:
Fairies were once respected to the point of fear
Fairies were perceived as dangerous spirits and for good reason: “fairy” derives from “fate”
Many fairies resemble the Middle Eastern/North African spirits known as Djinn. Both are shy, volatile, nocturnal spirits who frequently distrust people and are reputedly temperamental, easily offended, and potentially dangerous. In both cases it’s considered hazardous to call them by name and so euphemisms like “the neighbors” (Djinn) or “the good people” (Fairies) are substituted. (Nicer, sweeter, more benevolent female Djinn are sometimes classified as “fairies” in those English-language fairy tales where “djinn,” unlike “fairy,” still retains an aura of volatility.) Both dislike iron and salt, although Djinn allegedly formed from fire, as people were formed from Earth, do not fear that element as some fairies, notably the sidhe, reputedly do.
“Fairy” is sometimes used to encompass any kind of spirit or fabulous being. Thus mining spirits, dwarfs, kobolds and goblins are all labeled “fairies,” as are the Black Dogs of Britain and other supernal animal creatures. One thousand pages devoted to this vast array of spiritual entities alone wouldn’t do them justice and so in these pages “fairy” is more narrowly defined.
Two types of fairies are discussed in these pages, together with their human devotees:
Spirits that determine human fate and destiny
Spirits of wild nature: those spirits with dominion over animals, botanicals, fertility, birth, love, sex, and women’s power
Sometimes these two types of fairies overlap. Both types also are often involved with death and transitions between life and death. Many serve as psychopomps (see DICTIONARY) and thus encounters with them are often unwelcome and perceived as threatening.
Birth-spirit Fairies: The Fates
In the famous story Sleeping Beauty, following the birth of a long-awaited royal heir, her parents, the king and queen, hold a banquet for fairies who come to celebrate as well as bestow the baby’s fate. Each fairy bears a blessing as a baby-gift.
Different versions of the fairy tale posit different reasons: sometimes it’s an accidental oversight, other times an intentional omission, but one fairy inevitably is not invited. Sometimes she shows up anyway and is welcomed, but the unprepared parents are unable to provide the same beautiful golden plate engraved with her own name as is given her sister-fairies. The end result is that, angered, she retaliates with a deadly curse for the baby.
This scenario is no mere fairy tale but a description of spiritual rituals long performed throughout Europe, in French, Slavic, Celtic, and other regions as well as among the Romany.
Following a baby’s birth it was customary to lay an offering table for fairies who were expected to arrive and bestow the baby’s fate. Details differ as the specific spirits to whom the ritual is devoted. Most frequently, three spirits are anticipated but sometimes there is only one and sometimes as many as twelve, as in the original version of Sleeping Beauty. Usually the spirits are female but the Romany, for instance, have intermingled male and female birth spirits.
The offering table is the crucial element: this is not necessarily the equivalent of an altar, although it bears resemblance to the ofrendas of the Mexican Days of the Dead (see CALENDAR: Dia De los Muertos). A table is laid as if for a festive meal. Fairies as honored, desired guests are expected to come and dine: food and drink are offered. The table must be beautifully set with individual place settings, napkins, glasses, the works. (Each tradition will specify how many fairies are expected although as in Sleeping Beauty, it’s usually best to be prepared for extra guests.)
Fatit are South Albanian fairies (singular: fati), also known as miren from the Greek Moirae or Fates. The fatit ride butterflies. On the third day following a baby’s birth, three fatit approach the cradle and determine the baby’s destiny.
Oosood are Serbian spirits described as a sub-species of Vila (see page 443), which is interesting because it links Fate Fairies with Nature-spirit Fairies. Oosood arrive on the seventh day following a birth and are visible only to the mother. In addition to food, they appreciate flowers.
“Our Good Mothers” is the Breton euphemism for these Fates who typically appear in groups of three. Their leader is named Béfind. They prefer lavish multi-course meals complete with champagne, whiskey, wine, and pastry, as well as the fruits and nuts more familiarly associated with fairies.
The Seven Hathors may be the earliest clear manifestation of this tradition. Hathor is the primordial Egyptian goddess of love, sex, birth, pleasure, intoxication, music, and death. She is a famed shape-shifter: the Seven Hathors may be aspects or avatars of Hathor although they may also be her daughters or attendant spirits. They appear at births to pronounce the baby’s destiny. It is unknown whether food offerings were given to them, although this was customary in Egyptian tradition. They were, however, offered seven red ribbons, one for each Hathor.
Among the spirits categorized as fairies are a preponderance of what are commonly called “nature spirits.” Folklorists divide these fairies into categories:
Trooping fairies live in sophisticated societies similar to those of humans and often accumulate wealth. “Trooping” indicates that at least once a year, fairies leave their home and travel in processional.
Solitary fairies are not all literally solitary, although some are. Many live in packs. These fairies do not troop: they are wild or feral spirits and are described as solitary because they live a stark, simple existence in the forest or underwater away from civilization.
Pronounced Buhvan shee, Baobhan Sith, literally “Fairy Women,” are spirits of the Scottish Highlands. Their name is cognate with banshee but they have a different nature, more closely resembling Vila. (See Sidhe, Vila, pages 440 and 443.)
Baobhan sith are shape-shifters, usually taking the form of hooded crows or ravens. They also manifest as women typically, but not always, dressed in green; the true giveaway as to their identity is in their feet. Rather than human feet, these ladies sport deer hooves.
Baobhan sith love to dance all night. According to some legends, they seduce men, dance with them and then kill them, draining them of their blood, and so are sometimes described as “Scottish vampires.”
As with all these stories, it’s difficult to tell whether this was always the nature of the baobhan sith, whether these are stories invented post-Christianity to discourage potential devotees from joining in the fairies’ dance or whether, once sufficiently angered, previously neutral or benevolent spirits transform into malevolent ones.
As the baobhan sith’s favorite victims are reputedly young hunters out on the moors, one suspects that like Vila, they may be animals’ guardian spirits who guarantee that only spiritually initiated hunters who’ve performed the correct hunting rituals are permitted to hunt. (Without these rituals, animals are unable to resurrect and return to life.)
Bereginy refers to a host of Slavic water spirits in the retinue of a primal goddess named Bereginia (also Berehinia, Perehinia). Bereginy is Russian; the Polish variant is Bóginki.
Bereginia means “earth” and “shore,” and so perhaps indicates the threshold where land and water meet. River, forest, and lake spirits, the Bereginy are often depicted in the guise of double-tailed mermaids. Some believe these primeval Slavic spirits are the ancient ancestors of the Rusalka and Vila (see pages 439 and 443); others suggest that they are sister spirits, with the Bereginy inhabiting banks overlooking the waters where the Rusalka dwell.
The first recorded historical reference to Bereginia is from a sixth-century Greek lexicon naming gods and goddesses who were taboo for Christians. Among the spirits listed to avoid is “the Berehinia.”
The Bereginy, however, remained publicly honored by Slavic women as late as the Middle Ages, with secret devotions continuing long after. Christian chroniclers complained that the Bereginy were dangerous spirits because of the persistence with which women continued to serve them secretly. Rituals once held openly on the banks of rivers would eventually be held in sacred, secret, private places like the bathhouse. (See PLACES: Bathhouse.)
Dakini are Himalayan attendants of the goddess Kali, also known as “Cloud Fairies,” “Sky Dancers,” and “Celestial Women.” In English, dakini is alternatively translated as “fairies,” “furies” or “yoginis.” They are sometimes defined as “Spirits of Wrath.”
In pre-Buddhist times, the Sanskrit word dakini denoted a female death spirit, perhaps similar to a Valkyrie, found at battlefields, cemeteries, and cremation grounds.
In modern Hindi, dakin indicates “witch.”
From the ninth through at least the thirteenth centuries there was an active, vital spiritual tradition involving veneration of dakini with temples throughout India. Shrines centered on Tantric practice and adoration of 64 dakinis. Dakini rituals were practiced well into the sixteenth century when for now unknown reasons they began to fade from mainstream Hindu religion. Temples were eventually abandoned, although many buildings still remain and may be visited. (They were architecturally unique in India as they lack roofs, perhaps to allow the dakini to fly in and out.)
French explorer and magician Alexandra David-Neel, author of Magic and Mystery in Tibet (1932), translated dakini as “fairy.” See HALL OF FAME: Alexandra David-Neel.
Dakini can fly and possess magical powers. Although often described as dangerous (some allegedly have a taste for human flesh), they sometimes operate as personal guardian spirits and are invoked for initiation into the secrets of Tantra.
See DICTIONARY: Dakini, Yogini.
Deives are Lithuanian spirits who sport two faces: they manifest as fierce old hags and as big-breasted, blue-eyed beautiful women with long blonde hair. Deives protect women, supervising their work and spiritual traditions. Rules of the deives included no laundering after sunset (that’s when the deives go swimming), and no spinning on Thursdays. They punish men who fail to respect these rules and force women to break them. Deives also allegedly dislike greed, excessive acquisitiveness, and selfishness.
These are Catalonian spirits whose name literally means “Ladies of the Water.” They live anywhere where clean, fresh water can be found: springs, fountains, wells, and lakes including those within caves and forests. These Ladies of the Water guard hoards of treasure although, according to reports, they are usually very friendly and helpful to humans. They typically manifest as mermaids (half-woman/half-fish) or as sirens (half-woman/half-bird).
Dryads are ancient Greek female woodland spirits. Attendants of Artemis, they are the guardians of trees, groves, and forests. The dryads live in trees but should not be confused with hamadryads, who are stationary spirits of individual trees that die when a tree is felled. Dryads, on the other hand, move around quite easily. To see them was considered unlucky, although this may be because as vigilant guardian spirits they most frequently made themselves visible when displeased and intent on inflicting disciplinary action. Dryads are appeased and propitiated with offerings of milk, water, wine, oil, and honey.
See BOTANICALS: Trees; DIVINE WITCH: Artemis; HALL OF FAME: Paracelsus.
E Bukura e Dheut
E Bukura e Dheut is an Albanian fairy whose name means “Earthly Beauty.” She lives in a fairy-tale castle atop a mountain guarded by fabulous beasts and creatures. E Bukura e Dheut rules over a host of other beautiful spirits, her sister fairies. They are volatile and capricious and thus utterly unpredictable: when encountered they may be generous and kind or maliciously destructive, although E Bukura e Dheut herself is often used to represent the epitome of beauty and happiness.
Elf, an Anglo-Saxon word, refers to the indigenous spirits of the Teutonic lands. The words fairy and fée are of French derivation and began to replace “elf” in the fourteenth century. The words are now somewhat interchangeable, although “elf” is more specific and is never a generic term like “fairy.”
Orisha originally came from Yorubaland, Lwa from Dahomey. Rusalka derive from Russia, Sidhe from Ireland, Djinn from the Middle East, and so forth. Who are the indigenous Anglo-Saxon spirits and what are they called in plain English? Some would say there are none but this just demonstrates the intensity with which traditions were suppressed. Indigenous Anglo-Saxon spirits are Elves.
Elves feature prominently in the spells and charms of the Anglo-Saxons. Many of these charms were intended to protect from elves and so a hostile relationship is presumed; however some perceive that pre-Christianity, spiritual alliances existed between elves and people. Once this alliance ended, embittered elves, previously helpful, turned dangerous or, conversely, people were taught to fear elves specifically so that they would not continue pagan devotions. Clues that this was the case arise in Teutonic mythology devoted to Freyr and Hulda, Elven King and Queen. (See DIVINE WITCH: Hulda.)
Like fairies, elves have now been cleaned-up and made-over to suit sanitized children’s fiction, often portrayed as miniature, whimsical busy-bees: Santa’s little helpers. Originally elves were human-sized, sometimes taller, and were renowned archers, healers, and artisans. Author J.R.R. Tolkien’s portrayal of the sacred but dangerous elven folk in The Lord of the Rings trilogy of novels hews closely to mythological tradition.
Elves had their own kingdom paralleling those of humans. Like fairies, elves could be benevolent and helpful but were also feared: elves reputedly had a tendency to be hostile to humans, sometimes striking them with the poison darts known as elf-shot, which lead to illness and malaise.
Among theories surrounding elves is that they were the indigenous people of North-western Europe, eventually pushed deep into caves, forests, and mountain halls by Indo-European invaders.
Keshalyi are the Romany fairies. Their name is believed to derive from a word for “spindle” and so they may be associated with those deities who spin the threads of fate.
They live in remote forests and mountain glades, especially in Transylvania.
The Keshalyi are gentle, beautiful, and benevolent, but theirs is a tragic saga:
Ana, the beautiful, kind, generous Queen of the Keshalyi lived in a fabulous castle in her mountain paradise, until the King of Demons fell in love with her. (These aren’t Christian demons but malevolent spirits known in Romany as Loçolico.) She refused his advances and proposal of marriage until the King with his horde of evil spirits stormed her palace and began devouring her fairy entourage. To spare the rest, she agreed to the marriage.
Ana as the spirit of fertility is marvelously fertile herself. Unwillingly, she becomes pregnant time and time again. The fruits of her union with the King of Demons are horrific disease spirits. A lengthy fairy-horror tale cycle recounts each pregnancy and names the child and the diseases it causes. Some but not all her pregnancies result from sex. For instance, Ana develops a skin infection. A cure is suggested that involves mice licking her sores; one mouse enters her body to be reborn as the disease spirit Lolmischo who, in the form of a demonic red mouse, inflicts eczema and other skin ailments.
The saga of the liaison between Ana and the King of Demons is the history of the introduction of diseases, both physical and emotional. However, the detailed saga may also be used by shamans and fairy magicians for purposes of diagnosis, and to affect magical cures via negotiation and control of the spirits.
Utterly horrified and in despair following the birth of her ten children (including one, Lilyi, who sounds remarkably like Lilith reborn as a Romany disease demon; she inflicts catarrhal infection), Ana finally convinced the King of Demons to liberate her. In exchange she agrees that whenever a Keshalyi reaches 999 years of age, she will marry one of his Loçolico. Consumed with remorse and shame, Ana now hides within her palace, only very occasionally venturing out in the form of a golden toad.
See below Fairy Magicians, Sicilian Fairy Cult; ANIMALS: Frogs; DIVINE WITCH: Herodias, Lilith.
The Korrigans (also spelled Corrigans) allegedly did not begin existence as spirit beings; once upon a time they were Pagan Breton princesses who opposed Christianity and were transformed into fairies, whether as punishment (the “official” story) or reward is subject to interpretation. Another explanation suggests that they were Druidesses, although theoretically there’s no reason they couldn’t be both.
As spirits, they now manifest either as mermaids or as land-living fairies. They are usually described as beautiful, long-haired women wearing flowing white garments, but they can also manifest as fierce hags, especially when encountered in the daylight.
The Korrigans are most frequently encountered in the forest or by streams. They travel in packs and like to have fun, dancing among stone circles and menhirs and leading travelers astray with their beautiful voices and mysterious fairy torchlight. Allegedly, they especially enjoy playing tricks on priests.
The Korrigans helped Princess Dahut build the magical crystal city, Ys. They are among those spirits accused of stealing human babies and leaving changelings behind.
See below Changeling; DIVINE WITCH: Dahut.
Lauma (Lithuanian: Laumé; Latvian: Laūme) are Baltic fairies. The entourage of the witch-goddess Ragana, they are most frequently encountered bathing in springs at night and spinning and weaving in the moonlight—significant activities as they link the worlds of Fate Fairies with those of the Nature-spirit Fairies.
Originally Lauma were guardians of the poor and protectors of orphan children, however post-Christianity they have developed hag-like features and are sometimes described in terms similar to Baba Yaga. (See DIVINE WITCH: Baba Yaga, Ragana.)
These are female German water spirits and freshwater mermaids. Their male counterparts are the Nix. They live in societies that parallel those of humans, in underwater cities.
Male nixes have a bad reputation amongst people; they have green teeth and resemble drowned corpses. Nixies, on the other hand, are typically described as seductively beautiful although, as they are shape-shifters, their appearance may be a matter of choice. (In addition to appearing human, gray horses are favored forms.) Nixies reputedly entice mortal men to their doom.
Nixies typically manifest as mermaids, but have a passion for shopping and so like to attend local fairs and markets. No “Little Mermaid” angst regarding lack of legs for nixies. When they wish to walk on land, they sprout legs; when they wish to live in the water, legs are replaced with tails, just like that. Allegedly, the clue to the true identity of two-legged land-walking nixies is dripping water: they are always wet. Once upon a time, their apron strings were always soaked; now that aprons are out of style, it might be any item of clothing.
“Nixy” derives from the Old High German nihhusa, translated as “female water sprite.” (The male is nihhus.) Various water spirits throughout Northern and Western Europe have similar names; most are threatening and malevolent.
Peri are Iranian fairies, tiny, sweet, gossamer beings nourished solely by the aromas of fragrant flowers and trees. Iran is the home of dualism; the philosophy permeates their fairy tales, too. Malicious spirits called deevs (possibly the root origin of “devil”) constantly attempt to capture peris by hanging iron cage-traps from treetops. Peris who accidentally fly in are trapped. Their sister spirits, however, sustain these trapped peris by feeding them perfume, which in turn repulses the deevs so that they are unable to complete their nefarious plans.
These are Russian nature spirits associated with water, fields, and forests. They often appear in groups. Rusalka are exclusively female: they may be young and beautiful or old, fierce, and scary, but they are never feeble old ladies. When manifesting as crones, they are ancient hags of power.
There are fierce debates as to the true identity and origin of Rusalka and to some extent their appearance depends upon which version of events is believed. The Rusalka are shape-shifters and perhaps willing to conform to expectations.
“Rusalka” derives from the same roots as Rus and Russia, and so they are often classified as primal Russian ancestral or totemic spirits. Spirits of moisture, they officially bless the land once a year with fertility.
Another suggestion is that Rusalka are the transformed souls (ghosts) of young women who’ve drowned, either as a result of accidents (perhaps lured in by spirits including other Rusalka), suicide or murder: many legends suggest they were pushed in by their mothers, perhaps referring to ancient traditions of human sacrifice.
Christian-oriented explanations suggest that Rusalka are the souls of girls who’ve died unbaptized, with the added inference of “So, young lady, if you’re not baptized, you’re doomed to become a damned Rusalka too!”
Sometimes the Rusalka are described as beautiful, wild-haired, big-breasted women—which is quite apparent as when encountered they’re usually naked, although sometimes they wear white and twine poppies in their hair. Others describe them as resembling cadavers, pale and bloated like drowned corpses. They are also envisioned as incredibly beautiful mermaids.
Although they can be benevolent and were venerated for centuries, they can also be dangerous if they choose. Rusalka sometimes live in rye fields as attendants of the Corn Mother, Baba Yaga, and act as guardians of the rye. Like Baba Yaga, they are powerfully identified with birch trees and poppies.
In the Ukraine, Rusalka perch in birch trees like birds. In the spring, they move out to the branches where they sit, washing and combing their abundant hair and weaving linen garments, which they wash and hang from branches to dry. Another legend suggests that Rusalka live in beautiful underwater palaces during the winter but move to the trees when the weather heats up.
The Rusalka’s ritual act of ornamenting trees with fine handiwork serves as a role model for women who weave and embroider special cloths, which they drape on birch trees as offerings to the Rusalka and the trees. Rusalka expect veneration and offerings from women as their due. They ask passing girls for gifts. Girls decorate birches with ribbons and embroideries.
Sometimes the Rusalka get bored living quietly in the forest, at which time they allegedly seduce, and then kill men. Whether this is Christian defamation and completely untrue, or whether this refers to now-forgotten human sacrifice is now unknown.
Rusalka come down from the trees at night to circle-dance in the moonlight. Allegedly if caught in the act, they drown observers. Water is the Rusalka’s natural element and home but also their weapon. On the other hand, the Rusalka’s water also cures: Rusalka own secret wells in the forest with miraculous powers of healing. They can be petitioned for assistance.
See BOTANICALS: Birch, Opium Poppy; DIVINE WITCH: Baba Yaga; ERGOT: Corn Mother: Baba Yaga.
Sidhe (pronounced shee) is the Gaelic word commonly translated as “fairy.” “Fairy folk” is daoine sidhe or deenee shee.
Sidhe is also the Gaelic word for barrow or tumulus; ancient burial mounds, long grown over with grass and sometimes filled with treasure. Many fairy-sidhe reside within the barrowsidhe. Whether these spirits received their name from the barrows, whether the name is a euphemism for the spirits—referring to them by their address (in the way that Djinn are sometimes referred to as “Down There”)—or whether the double-word is meant to imply deeper spiritual traditions is now unknown.
Many consider sidhe the true and only “fairy folk.” Various explanations are offered:
They are the ancient Celtic gods: sidhe exist in Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Scottish Highlands.
They are specifically the Pagan spirits of Ireland known as the Tuatha de Danann who, deprived of offerings and devotion, have withered. Tuatha de Danann means “Children of Danu” or “Dana” and refers to a legendary race that overthrew the indigenous inhabitants of Ireland. When the Tuatha de Danaan were, in turn, defeated by invading Milesians they took shelter in earth barrows (sidhe) and eventually came to be known by that name. Allegedly the Tuatha de Danann were once also known as Marcra shee (“fairy cavalcade”) or slooa-shee (“fairy host”).
An alternative Christian suggestion explains that the fairies are Fallen Angels—not quite bad enough to be damned to Hell but not good enough to be forgiven and saved.
They also may not have “come” from anywhere but may just be indigenous spirits who interact with people. Thus some consider the sidhe to be god-like, while others perceive them as demons caught on Earth, an important distinction when considering responses to the Fairy Faith. (See page 448; see also Fairy Witch.)
Another suggestion is that the sidhe were not spirits at all but aboriginal pre-Celtic people of the British Isles who possessed a powerful, mysterious, magical culture with a strong emphasis on herbalism and shamanism. They retreated to remote areas, including underground dwellings, in the face of aggressive invaders.
The sidhe are proud spirits who perceive themselves as worthy of veneration and intense respect: they accept (and perhaps expect!) small but consistent offerings, such as dishes of milk placed out overnight on the windowsill or doorstep.
There are male and female sidhe. They have an elaborately structured society that parallels that of humans and are considered to be trooping fairies, although some solitary spirits are also classified as sidhe. (See below, Solitary Sidhe.) Although some seem to bear a measure of hostility toward people, fairies often show considerable interest in human society and interaction with humans.
Sidhe stand accused of stealing humans, especially babies, children, midwives, and wetnurses. The milk they expect as an offering may not always have been bovine; legends tell of fairies accosting women and begging for a sip of human milk.
“Leprechaun” derives from the Gaelic leith brog “one shoemaker.” He is a cobbler, the sole professional sidhe; he is, however, always seen working on only one shoe rather than a pair, which may be a reference to shamanism. He works on shoes continually, with time off only for an occasional spree. The leprechaun is fabulously wealthy: he buries his treasure in pots and is reputedly a tremendous and not always nice practical joker. See CREATIVE ARTS: Dance: Step of Wu; DICTIONARY: Bagatella.
Their real passion, however, is for dancing and pleasure. Little industry exists among them: Irish fairies keep cows and sell or trade them at fairs. (Pre-Christian Irish deities were intrinsically involved with cattle.) The sole exception is the leprechaun who labors as a shoemaker. William Butler Yeats speculated that this was necessary as the rest of the sidhe constantly wore out their shoes dancing; he describes a woman who lived among the sidhe for seven years. When she returned home, her toes were gone: she had danced them right off her feet.
The sidhe have an intense relationship with people characterized by both love and hostility. Once upon a time, they were the subject of passionate human veneration: hidden within fairy tales and legends are suggestions of Pagan devotion and voluntary channeling of spirits, similar to modern spiritual traditions such as the African Diaspora faiths and the Zar cult. (See DICTIONARY: Candomblé, Santeria, Vodou, Zar.)
Solitary sidhe are not trooping fairies. Some perceive that they are a separate species of spirit, now lumped in with the sidhe. (And perhaps, in Gaelic, sidhe eventually became almost as generic as fairy in English.) Many are associated with death; some serve as psychopomps or death-knells.
The most famous is the bean-sidhe or banshee, which literally means “Fairy Woman” or “Woman of the Fairy Mound.” It is worthwhile to recall that “fairy mounds” are another name for the often treasure-filled barrows, ancient burial mounds that stud Europe and Asia (where they are known as kurgans).
In the Hollywood version of the banshee, hearing her voice causes death and so she has become a staple of horror entertainment. This is unfair: the banshee doesn’t kill or injure anyone nor does she scream for just anyone. She is a spirit who is attached to a specific family. (And it is a typically elegant family at that!)
She is the family’s personal escort to the realm of the dead. She does not kill but awaits death and mourns. Should a member of her family be about to die (for any reason; it could be a natural death of someone aged 102) she manifests herself and audibly keens, the traditional Celtic mourning wail. Obviously, however, she is a dreaded guest: her presence, usually both visible and audible, indicates imminent death and advises the family to begin making appropriate preparations.
The banshee manifests in various forms, including:
An old woman dressed in green with glowing red eyes in hollow sockets and long, wild, white hair
A deathly pale woman dressed in white with long, wild red hair
A beautiful woman, veiled in white
A shimmery, silvery woman with long, beautifully abundant silver-gray hair
A headless woman, naked from the waist up, often carrying a basin of blood
See DICTIONARY: Banshee.
Also among the solitary sidhe are the Leanhaun shee or “fairy lover.” This beautiful fairy haunts wells and springs in Ireland and the Isle of Man in search of human lovers. If they accept her love, they are doomed to be hers forever. She vampirically feeds off their life essence and so her lovers aren’t long-lived. However, there is some compensation: she infuses them with tremendous poetic and literary skills. The Leanhaun shee is blamed for the brief lives of many of Ireland’s greatest poets but credited with bestowing their talent.
Trolls are skilled shape-shifters. Modern children’s stories suggest that trolls are generally hulking, stupid, and ugly. Folk wisdom agrees that trolls can be fierce and scary-looking but this is only half the story—the male half. Female trolls are fierce but beautiful.
Trolls live in communities paralleling those of humans, under hills and in barrows and caves filled with so much treasure that they glow in the dark. They love music and dancing and have been known to abduct musicians to play for them. They don’t like noise, especially the ringing of church bells, and thus try to live far from human habitation—although humans habitually encroach on their turf.
Trolls, like elves and sidhe, may refer to Pagan spirits, to human devotees of those forbidden spirits attempting to maintain their traditions apart from mainstream society, or to aboriginal people pushed to the margins by Indo-European invaders. In all cases, they are identified with magical arts, herbalism, and ironworking. In parts of Scandinavia, trollkvinna—“troll queen”—is synonymous with “witch.” (See DICTIONARY: Trollkvinna.)
Despite their negative reputations, many tales exist of benevolent, helpful trolls. On the other hand, they are also among those spirits frequently accused of stealing women, children, and valuables. Trolls are expert spell-casters, herbalists, and master ironworkers. They are nocturnal. Stories suggest that they turn to stone when exposed to sunlight.
Although Hungary also has malevolent fairies, the Tündér are charming, beautiful, and benevolent. Hungarian fairy tales describe Tündér protecting orphans and saving the destitute with gifts of the priceless pearls that they wear in their hair.
Tündér are virtually exclusively female. They are fabulously wealthy, living on remote mountaintops in amazing castles surrounded by beautiful gardens. They passionately love dancing and music and will dance the night away under the moonlight. They have powerful magical powers and own magical jewels and herbs with which they cast spells. Their body fluids, including tears, milk, and saliva, have magical properties as well and are tools of enchantment.
Legends regale the magic powers and charitable, righteous actions of specific Tündér, who are known by name. The most prominent is Tündér Ilona (“Fairy Helen”). Others include Tündér Maros, Dame Rampson, and Dame Vénétur.
Unlike many other spirits classified as “fairies” Tündér are addressed by name, although always preceded by an honorific. The Hungarian word translated into English as “Dame” indicates tremendous veneration, adoration, and respect, akin to the original usage of Ma Donna or “My Lady.” Testimony from Hungarian witch trials indicates that these spirits may once have been intensely venerated.
See Fairy Magicians, Sicilian Fairy Cult, Witchcraft Trials.
Tylwyth Teg are Welsh spirits usually described as resembling humans although manifesting in assorted sizes: some are human-sized, some are approximately the height of a man’s knee while others are tiny, although, as they are also renowned shape-shifters, perhaps this is a moot point. Their name means the “Fair Family” but this may be a euphemism for these Welsh fairies.
Tylwyth Teg live in organized societies ruled over by a king, Gwyn ap Knudd. There are both male and female Tylwyth Teg. They typically dress in green although the king’s court allegedly wears blue and red silk.
Tylwyth Teg prefer to live in remote places: wooded areas in the mountains, or lonely islands within lakes or off the Welsh coast. They are nocturnal, emerging at night to make music and dance in the moonlight in fairy rings. They adore music and have been accused of kidnapping particularly skilled human musicians and forcing them to stay and play for them.
A human caught within a fairy ring is obliged to dance with the Tylwyth Teg for a year and a day, although carrying a rowan twig grants you free passage through their territory. Plough through one of their fairy rings, even by accident, and be cursed for life. Their mainstay meal is milk with saffron. They dislike salt and iron and are among the fairies accused of stealing children and leaving changelings behind.
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.
Among the accusations hurled against fairies is that they steal humans. Sometimes this is simple kidnapping—someone simply disappears—but traditionally fairies leave a substitute from among their own race. Changeling technically names this fairy replacement but the word has also come to include the entire phenomena as well as the abducted human.
Not everyone is equally vulnerable to being stolen. Common victims include:
Midwives and wet-nurses, ostensibly stolen to serve fairy mothers
Handsome young men stolen to become lovers and/or prisoners of fairy queens, as in the folk ballad Tam Lin
Babies and young children
The abduction of children is the most feared changeling phenomenon. Two types of children are at risk: particularly beautiful, vigorous children and absolutely ordinary, run-of-the-mill healthy children. Frail children are not at risk; however the changeling left in exchange is often frail, sickly, and wizened.
One common explanation suggests that fairies, a dwindling, scarce race, believe that humans are sturdier, healthier, and more prolific, and thus seek to incorporate human bloodlines into their communities to strengthen them. Small children and infants are easiest to integrate into their communities. (The added implication is that fairies secretly observe human communities and individuals very closely.) The kidnapping of midwives and wet-nurses is also intended to serve similar purposes. (And once upon a time, midwives did more than just deliver babies; they performed blessing rituals believed necessary for the baby’s good health and fortune.)
Changelings occur in many traditions as far afield as North Africa and the Middle East. Trolls, nixies, and Korrigans are accused of stealing children, as are sidhe; however Irish legend has a particularly extensive catalog of changeling lore and so changelings are often understood as a purely Celtic phenomenon. It is possible however that this intensive attention to changelings masks Pagan spiritual, magical, and healing traditions.
Because, of course, there’s more to it: fairy tales inevitably end with the return of the old person or personality. The unspoken story is that “changeling” is also the name given to people who voluntarily went to live with fairies, often eventually returning to their communities in a changed state. Their personalities are described as “changed” or “different,” often distant, although, as these tales are never told by the changelings themselves but by (often hostile) observers, one may assume that the changelings may have had reasons to keep their distance. They also traditionally return as masters of herbal and magical knowledge.
Changelings serve as conduits between people and the fairy community. They also initiate and train fairy doctors, teaching them fairyhealing techniques.
Fairy tales and folklore often focus on methods of reversing the switch—of getting the old person back and returning the changeling to the fairies. Three traditional methods exist:
Trooping fairies leave their fairy mounds and strongholds several times a year. A direct exchange may be made during this time, although to be successful, specific magical spells and rituals are required.
The fairy changeling, often weak and frail, must be nurtured so that he or she transforms into a happy, healthy, vigorous child. Supposedly when this occurs, the fairies will prefer having their own child back and will affect the change themselves.
In general, one must be kind to the changeling if one ever wants to see one’s own child again. The unspoken threat is that if the changeling is misused or abandoned, the fairies will inflict similar treatment (or worse) on the human child. The exception to that rule emerges in the school of fairy exorcisms.
If fairies are perceived as demons then the “stolen victim” hasn’t been kidnapped; instead they are possessed. Fairies are exorcized like demons. Exorcism rites from around the world often involve beating or torturing the possessed victim in the belief that when life within the host becomes sufficiently unpleasant, the resident demon will voluntarily withdraw or can be forced to leave.
The danger, as noted by many traditions, is that these intensive exorcism rites may end up doing more damage (sometimes fatal) than the possession itself. Because sidhe, unlike zar, are allegedly afraid of fire, victims of fairy possession have been burned in efforts to make the fairies depart.
What if efforts are not made to affect a switch or if attempts are unsuccessful?
The fairy child abandoned to live with humans often grows up to be a sniveling, dullwitted person. No longer a child, he was no longer classified as a changeling but as an ouphe, the original “oaf.”
And what of the stolen human? Reports vary: some are reported to yearn for their human life and lost friends and family. Others are reportedly happy among the fairies, living a life of joy, music, and dance.
The most famous changeling was Thomas the Rhymer, a thirteenth-century Scottish prophet, a historically documented individual also known as Thomas of Erceldoune, subject of a famous ballad. Depending on the version of his legend, Thomas either kissed or made love to a Fairy Queen; he was either instantly transported to Fairyland or rode together with the Queen on her white horse. After seven years, she either transported him back or he grew homesick and requested leave to go. The Fairy Queen offered him a choice of gifts: he could become a harper or a seer. Thomas chose the latter.
See also Fairy Doctors, Fairy Faith, Fairy Magician, Fairy Witch; ANIMALS: Foxes; DICTIONARY: Dybbuk, Zar; MAGICAL ARTS: Ritual Possession.
Cats, especially black ones, are the favored form of many species of spirits and fairies are no exception. One Celtic tradition suggests that gazing into a cat’s eye is a method of viewing fairies and magically entering Fairyland. Cats are also identified as Fairies. Who says fairy tales aren’t true?
The Cait Sith (pronounced “cat shee”) is the fairy cat of the Scottish Highlands, described as being as large as a dog or calf and black, with a white star on its breast. This is no little cuddly kitty but is an exceptionally fierce animal, spitting and growling when encountered. It is described as having an arched back and bristles, although that’s typical of any angry cat. Apparently, many Highlanders once also believed these cats were transformed witches on the prowl.
The cait sith is no forgotten legend: in recent years, Scottish police have received over a thousand reports of sightings of huge black cats.
Although the cait sith was long considered a creature of fantasy, it is now believed to be what is called the Kellas Cat, named after the village in Morayshire where it was first identified in the mid-1980s. At least eight have since been killed and studied.
Generally believed to be a cross between feral domestic cats and indigenous Scottish wild cats (Felis sylvestris grampia) some believe that Kellas cats are a unique species instead. Kellas cats are usually completely black with a white blaze (star) on their chest, and they are large: the maximum recorded length for a male Kellas cat has been 43 inches from nose to tail although larger ones have been reported.
See ANIMALS: Cats.
In Ireland, this was the name given to a painful inflammation of the joints, usually in the hands or feet. Fairy doctors (see below) specialized in the removal of fairy dart. It was removed via an herbal ointment made with unsalted butter. An actual physical dart was often removed, which was frequently kept and displayed.
Darts are also associated with elves; some folklorists believe references to these darts and the illnesses (or death) they cause may actually describe the use of poisoned arrows by aboriginal peoples who are known as fairies.
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.
Sometimes stories are merely entertainment but story-telling is also among the sacred arts associated with religion and spiritual traditions. Thus, folktales and legends often include detailed spiritual information and instruction regarding their respective traditions. Some stories are intended literally, others are intended as metaphor, many may be appreciated on multiple levels simultaneously.
Thus the Bible may be understood as a historical source, as stories chronicling spiritual interaction with God and the spiritual experiences and journeys of various people, and as an explication of the sacred and a list of spiritual injunctions. Similar traditions exist elsewhere: in Santeria, the pataki are stories of the orisha. Pataki detail the lives and interaction of the orisha but also contain deep spiritual truths as well as ethical and moral information and spiritual instruction. Greek and other mythologies may be understood similarly.
“Fairy tales” are often understood as distinct from “sacred myths” because they are considered pure entertainment or whimsy, even though they detail the lives and actions of spiritual beings (Fairies), interaction between these beings and humans, and often detailed spiritual and ethical instructions. What if this was not really the case? What if fairy tales were intended to be as sacred as myths?
What if, in the face of oppression—and during the era of the witch-hunts!—these stories were deliberately downplayed as being solely entertainment in order to protect and preserve desperately endangered Pagan traditions?
That’s the theory of the Fairy Faith. All those stories detailing changelings, encounters with fairies, offerings of milk, whiskey or trinkets, which incidentally closely resemble the sort of humble offerings given on a daily basis to African-Diaspora spirits, may actually be offering detailed spiritual instruction in code.
For instance, in the Isle of Man it was once believed that if water was not left out for fairies, they would break into houses and vampirically suck the blood of sleeping humans. Was this always believed or was this a created rationale that enabled people to continue making offerings to their ancestral spirits?
This type of instruction is by necessity hidden, secret or encoded: sincere continuance of these practices was illegal, potentially heretical, and subject to severe punishment including death.
The Fairy Faith may represent vestigial remnants of Druidic religion.
Rumors and allegations that fairy tales were more than mere stories were rife throughout Ireland for centuries. Until the nineteenth century, Church control (and attendance) in much of rural Ireland was lax and country customs discreetly continued. This was an open secret: many fairy doctors openly communed with fairies. Ancient traditions were preserved, even if they were disreputable. Some fairy doctors, especially many female ones, may be understood as more than healers: they were also practitioners and leaders of the Fairy Faith.
In the nineteenth century, two conflicting phenomena arose that threatened this age-old practice:
Church control expanded throughout Ireland with attempts to standardize worship
The burgeoning Age of Rationalism increased doubt in the existence of fairies, spirits or any sort of spiritual entity, including God. Traditions like the Fairy Faith were identified by many as primitive, backward beliefs associated with the foolish and ignorant
This had particular implications in Ireland: by the late nineteenth century, fairies and the Fairy Faith had become an embarrassment and humiliation to the Irish Nationalist Party. Their fear was that no one would seriously consider granting political independence to a nation whose population still believed in fairies.
Both Nationalists and Unionists despised devotees of fairies. The Fairy Faith was dismissed as the worst superstition. In the wake of Neo-Paganism, however, the Fairy Faith has been revived and reinvigorated.
Further Reading: The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries by W.Y. Evans-Wentz, originally published in 1911 but recently republished (Citadel Press, 2003) is considered the classic text regarding the Fairy Faith. Based on Evans-Wentz’s Oxford doctoral thesis, it incorporates information from anthropological, folkloric, and historical sources including field reports from Brittany, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland, and Wales. Evans-Wentz was not a sensationalist but a serious scholar of spiritual traditions, eventually becoming a leading authority on Tibetan Buddhism.
Fairy forts, also known as ring forts or stone forts, are roughly circular earthen banks or stone walls. There were once as many as 60,000 of these circular earthworks in Ireland. Local names for them include cashel, forth, rath or rusheen.
The majority of them appear to have been built as enclosures for dwellings in the latter half of the first millennium of the Common Era, and they are classified as archeological remains of early medieval dwellings, now long deserted.
Ring forts became known as fairy forts because allegedly they are among the favorite haunts of fairies. According to common international metaphysical wisdom, ruins attract spirits: in North Africa and the Middle East, children are advised to avoid ruins so as to avoid encountering Djinn, just as Irish children were taught to stay out of ring forts for fear of fairies.
Of course, those who wish to encounter the spirits know where to go to find them. Being observed exploring a ruin such as a ring fort was most often interpreted as attempting to contact these spirits and was actively discouraged, although those who wished to commune with fairies persisted in this practice.
Ring forts are usually overgrown with vegetation. They are wild, mysterious places, considered the homes of spirits, the haunts of fairies. Ring forts can be physically as well as spiritually perilous, as many contain underground passages.
See also Fairy Faith, Fairy Witch.
“Fairy magicians” describes Central and southeastern European healers and practitioners. Fairy magicians incorporate the herbal and folkhealing skills of the Irish fairy doctors but also more openly acknowledge engaging in shamanic spiritual possession. In addition to healing, many also practiced other magical arts. In areas where witches were persecuted, the entire practice was conducted secretly: there was perhaps no conception that their traditions could be entirely distinguished from magical practice or witchcraft as the fairy doctors sometimes attempted to claim.
Fairy magicians were generally female spiritual mediators who maintained ritual connections and communication with fairies, including the Keshalyi, Tündér, and Vila among others. (See Nature-spirit Fairies, page 434.)
They were skilled in healing illnesses caused by fairies. In addition, these magicians were sometimes also fortune-tellers, necromancers, and magical practitioners who specialized in protecting against malefic magic and healing its effects.
Fairy magicians are initiated directly by the fairies. Initiates communicate with spirits via dreams and visions. Sometimes communication is via trance, which may be induced by music and/or dance. Dancing all night in the moonlight with fairies is thus a spiritual exercise as well as fun.
In Romania, healers gathered together at night for rituals presided over by Fairy Queen, Doamna Zónelor.
In the Balkans, “fairy societies” heal fairy-derived illnesses. Anthropologists describe these fairy societies of Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia as “possession cults.”
Also in the Balkans, the goddess of the fairies is known as “Saint Helen,” who may be Tündér Ilona in disguise.
Following initiation, members of these “fairy societies” are able to contact the fairies through sacrificial ritual and ecstatic music and dance. Fairies ritually possess society members in similar fashion to the way zar spirits, orisha, and lwa take temporary possession of their initiates. The spirit “mounts” the initiate and communicates through their voice and body. Fairy societies consider this a dangerous practice as it can stimulate illness (in the initiate) as well as healing.
See above Fairy Doctor, Fairy Faith; DICTIONARY: Lwa, Orisha, Zar; MAGICAL ARTS: Ritual Possession.
For centuries, legends suggested that Fairies, living in alternative, parallel societies, possessed roads on which they traveled and of which they were quite protective.
Fairy roads were invisible to most humans (although fairy doctors and specialists could distinguish them) and herein lay the danger. Accidentally stumbling onto a fairy road left one vulnerable to the fairies’ volatile temper. Even worse, should one accidentally—or deliberately—build a house or structure on a fairy road, disaster could ensue as the fairies sought to remove the obstruction.
With the exception of fairy devotees, fairy roads were largely classified as fantasy, or at least existing only on some alternate plane, until the early twentieth century. In June 1921, Alfred Watkins (1855—April 15, 1935), a successful Herefordshire businessman and amateur archeologist, was examining some maps. He noticed that various ancient sites including barrows, standing stones, and stone circles seemed to occur in alignment. Straight lines could be drawn connecting them. Further study indicated that old churches built atop ancient Pagan shrines could also be similarly aligned. Watkins believed these lines indicated prehistoric trading roads and named them “leys” from the Anglo-Saxon word for “cleared strip of land” or “meadow.” He published a book detailing his findings in 1925, The Old Straight Track.
His concepts were not accepted by conventional archeologists and historians who, in general, believed that the ancient Britons lacked the sophistication and technological prowess to create what Watkins proposed. However, similar theories (fairy roads, dragon lines) had long existed in the metaphysical world, and so the concept of ley lines made sense to many magical practitioners, notably Dion Fortune who incorporated the idea into her novel The Goat Foot God, from whence it entered the general metaphysical lexicon. (See CREATIVE ARTS: Literature: The Secrets of Dr Taverner; HALL OF FAME: Dion Fortune.)
Ley lines became associated with fairy roads and subject to controversy. Were there ever actual roads there or not? In some cases, archeology suggests there were but not consistently enough for conclusive scientific proof.
Metaphysicians often understand these “roads” or “lines” to be paths of power or paths of energy, and thus the actual physical presence of roads one can happen upon is irrelevant. (That said, others are convinced that the roads do exist; this passionate argument continues to rage.) What is important is that energy is not obstructed: in this sense, ley lines or fairy roads resemble the dragon paths of Chinese feng shui.
Author Rhiannon Ryall, in her book West Country Wicca (Phoenix Publishing, 1989), a description of pre-Gardnerian Wicca, describes “Fairy Paths” or “Trods” as a generally straight line seen in some fields that is a deeper shade of green than the rest of the grass. She, too, associates these fairy paths with ley lines.
Another theory harks back to the concept of fairy roads: these lines indicate roads used by spirits alone, often especially Spirits of the Dead. One suggestion is that they are Stone Age roads linking ancient burial grounds and so are often also known as Corpse Roads.
These roads are not restricted to the British Isles but have been discovered elsewhere. German Geisterwegen (Ghost Roads) are roads linking medieval cemeteries.
Further Reading: Among the books devoted to this subject are Paul Devereux’s Fairy Paths and Spirit Roads (Vega Books, 2003).
The Fairy Witch
Are you a witch?
Are you a fairy?
Are you the wife of Michael Cleary?
This Irish nursery rhyme memorializes Bridget Cleary (February 19, 1867—March 1895), often described as the last witch burned in Ireland, and popularly known as the Fairy Witch of Tipperary.
Although Ireland had among the mildest witchcraft persecutions in Europe, it is often credited with hosting the first and last witch burnings of Europe. Books sometimes chart the entire witchcraze from Petronilla of Meath, as the first woman officially burned as a witch, to Bridget who died at the tail end of the nineteenth century aged 28.
In neither case is the parallel exactly accurate: women were burned as witches prior to Petronilla and continue to be burned today, although now in different parts of the globe. Furthermore, Bridget Cleary’s death was not typical of a victim of the witchcraze.
Witchcraft was a crime during the Burning Times. Whether or not individuals were indeed practitioners of any sort, they were officially charged with crimes, tried according to an official process, convicted, and condemned to capital punishment. Their deaths, however horrific, were legal. No one was charged and punished for these deaths.
Those convicted as witches were considered the guilty parties.
Bridget Cleary, on the other hand, was killed by her husband in the process of what he described as an exorcism: he allegedly believed that she was a changeling and was attempting to get his wife back. Michael Cleary was subsequently arrested and charged with the murder of Bridget Cleary. He was convicted and served a prison sentence.
It is probable that what happened to Bridget Cleary was not unique: what was unique—and remains so in much of the world—is that someone was held responsible and punished for causing the death of a woman many believed to be a witch. Her story pulls the blankets off the suppressed subject of the Fairy Faith, both its genuine practitioners and those intensely opposed to it.
Bridget Cleary’s story is also very revealing regarding the perceived blending or interchangeableness of witches and fairies. The ordeal that she underwent at the hands of her husband, neighbors, and family is certainly reminiscent of witch-trial ordeals.
Her maiden name was Bridget Boland. She attended school, off and on, until she was 14. At the age of 20, she married Michael Cleary, a cooper, on August 5, 1887. He moved into the house Bridget shared with her parents. The two couples lived together in that house until the death of Bridget’s mother, one year before her own death. Bridget Cleary’s mother, Bridget Keating Boland died on February 1, 1894, leaving Bridget Jr. alone in the house with the two men who would both be implicated in her death.
According to her father’s court testimony, Michael Cleary asked him “Don’t you know it’s with an old witch I am sleeping?” Whether this meant Michael believed her to be a changeling or whether this meant he opposed her forays into the Fairy Faith is subject to interpretation.
Both Bridget’s and Michael Cleary’s mothers were reputedly fairy doctors. It is possible that Bridget Cleary was training to become one as well.
Bridget had a strong independent streak, noticed and resented by some. She had a reputation of being haughty, proud, and “fine” and was disliked by some of her peers, young women who mostly lived a very different existence from Bridget.
Bridget Cleary was independent and enterprising: she owned a Singer sewing machine and kept chickens; thus Bridget, unlike most other women in her community, had an independent income. Keeping poultry was among the very few ways to evade complete male control of the purse strings: she sold the eggs and also took in sewing.
Also unique among her female contemporaries, after eight years of marriage, Bridget was childless and rather than seeming to mourn this, she seemed to relish her freedom. With no children, Bridget could come and go as she pleased and she did. She sewed, sold eggs, earning her own money, giving her a measure of economic independence.
In the wake of the scandal following her death, Bridget’s neighbors and family were interviewed about her. According to reports, she had a defiant streak and wasn’t easily cowed by authority. Joan Hoff and Marian Yeates, authors of The Cooper’s Wife is Missing, describe Bridget as possessing what neighbors perceived as a “disturbing habit” of looking men in the eye, a trait allegedly characteristic of Pagan women.
Bridget’s mother had a reputation as a “fairy expert” and bore something of a reputation as a witch. Perhaps Bridget inherited her interest in the Fairy Faith from her mother. Certainly she displayed a fascination with fairies and, especially in the last year of her life, following the death of her mother, was often observed visiting two local fairy forts, leading to gossip by neighbors who speculated as to her motivation for the visits. Among the reasons suggested:
She was trying to make contact with the soul of her dead mother
She was rendezvousing with a lover
She was irresistibly lured there by the fairies
Michael Cleary had his own personal history with the fairies: as a boy, his mother (also named Bridget) had allegedly run off with the fairies, disappearing for three days. Following her return, she allegedly began operating as a fairy doctor. Michael Cleary had strong feelings about fairies, too: he feared and hated them, and was obsessed with the notion that they would abduct Bridget—or that she would willingly join them.
The first known indication of dissension between Michael and Bridget occurred around Yuletide 1894. Michael allegedly feared she’d been abducted by fairies, and he ordered Bridget not to go to the fairy forts. She defied him and continued to go. (After her death, witnesses came forward saying that Michael Cleary had threatened to burn her if she went back.)
She was observed visiting a fairy fort on February 1, 1895, the first anniversary of her mother’s death.
On March 6, 1895, Bridget Cleary returned home in the late afternoon, ostensibly from delivering eggs, complaining of feeling unwell. (Witnesses suggested that she had been observed at the fairy fort that day.) She exhibited signs of fairy-related illness: aches, pains, and chills. She was irritable, described as “distant,” and demonstrated some memory loss. Changes in temperament and appearance are among symptoms of fairy abduction. (In other words, a fairy is believed to have replaced or be impersonating the person believed to have been abducted. See page 444, Changelings.)
Initially, the family requested conventional medical attention. A local physician was requested to pay a house call. It took the local doctor four days to respond following repeated requests. He examined Bridget, and determined nervous exhaustion and slight bronchitis.
Despite requests for the doctor’s arrival, Michael Cleary allegedly suspected that his wife had been abducted by fairies, who had replaced her with a changeling. Michael perceived that Bridget was now two inches taller than previously and that she seemed, in his words, “more refined.”
For nine days, Bridget lay ill with a mysterious ailment. During these nine days, assorted friends, neighbors, and relatives came in and out. Her husband, convinced that his wife had been abducted by fairies, searched for help from two sources—the Church and fairy experts. He was heard arguing with Bridget who was allegedly heard to cry out, “If I had my mother, I would not be this way.”
Nine was a magic number; one theory, allegedly subscribed to by Michael Cleary, suggests that if the return of the abducted person is not affected within nine days, they are lost for ever, although this contradicts the many tales of changelings returning after seven years in Fairyland.
On at least three occasions, requests were made for a priest’s assistance. Priests were traditionally called in to exorcize fairies, considered akin to demons. This is “folk Catholicism” and was not standard practice even then. Theoretically it was not permitted, although allegedly it was common practice.
A priest met with Bridget twice. Father Ryan spoke to Bridget for over 20 minutes, later describing her as coherent and intelligent. He said he thought her behavior might indicate the onset of “brain fever” and so decided to administer the last rites, just in case…She allegedly did not swallow the communion wafer: one witness claimed that she spat it out surreptitiously, thus further confirming suspicions that Bridget Cleary had been abducted and that what lay in her place was a changeling.
Shortly afterwards, with the participation of other neighbors and family members including her father and cousins, Bridget Cleary was killed by her husband and another relative, John Dunne, a local “fairy expert.”
Dunne was not a fairy doctor in the traditional sense. Two types of “fairy experts” existed:
Fairy doctors, practitioners of the Fairy Faith, who were enthralled by fairies, trained by them, and practiced arts associated with them
What are essentially fairy exorcists, whose techniques drew heavily on Roman Catholic rites of exorcism and witchcraft trial ordeals; fairies were believed by these practitioners to be akin to demons; those allied with them were akin to witches.
Bridget was prescribed an herbal formula created from bitter herbs called “Seven Sisters Kill or Cure.” It did neither. Michael Cleary then purchased an herbal cure called “Nine in One Cure,” more potent and more exceedingly bitter than the Seven Sisters mixture.
In these nine days, Bridget had not been permitted to leave her home; she was in a weakened condition from her mysterious illness and perhaps from lack of nourishment: attempts were made to starve out the changeling. She was apparently afraid for her safety and requested that the police be called. This was not done.
Witnesses described the final ordeal of Bridget Cleary. A 16-year-old neighbor stood in the corner of the room holding a candle for illumination. John Dunne sat on the bed gripping Bridget’s hair. Two other men held her body down, each pinning down one shoulder while another man pinned down her feet. Michael Cleary attempted to force Bridget to swallow the Nine in One herbal cure in new milk, yelling at her to “Swallow it, you devil!” and “Take it, you old witch!” Her mouth was pried open: Bridget fought back, only confirming the belief that she was fairy-possessed. It ultimately took six men to pour the liquid down her throat.
After Bridget was forced to swallow the Nine in One cure, the family waited three hours for a “change.” When none was forthcoming, the “exorcism” escalated and the threat of fire was introduced.
At midnight on March 15th, Bridget was dressed in her finest clothes including a red petticoat in order that she could “go amongst the people”—however one interprets this. (“The People” is a euphemism for fairies.)
Urine was then thrown over her. She was choked, force-fed urine and herbs and pushed to the ground, her head knocking against the floor. Her clothes were stripped off. Bridget was shoved over the grate into the four-foot by four-foot fireplace, like some fairy-tale character (the witch in Hansel and Gretel for instance) in a fetal position with her legs sticking out.
According to a witness there was a low fire burning in the fireplace, hot enough to heat an iron grill but not hot enough to boil water. She was threatened with a hot iron poker. (Fairies allegedly fear both iron and fire so the combination was perceived as doubly powerful.)
Michael Cleary poured the contents of a can of paraffin oil over his wife and set her on fire. A witness claimed that the two women present attempted to put out the fire but Michael Cleary pushed them away, threatening to “roast” them as well. He proceeded to pour more oil over her burning body. According to a witness, Michael Cleary said he wasn’t burning his wife; he was burning a witch who would go up the chimney.
Another witness (Protestant neighbor Minnie Simpson) later asserted to the police that the family members believed that the person was not Bridget but a witch, although she claimed that she herself (Minnie) did not. She did not explain, however, why in that case she didn’t help Bridget, nor did she point out that she was among those who supplied the urine thrown on Bridget.
At this point, people allegedly thought Bridget was “cured” and left. Michael Cleary asserted that he wasn’t sure and wished to remain with Bridget for further observation, promising to meet up with family members later at his father’s house, although he apparently never arrived.
Based on the testimony of witnesses, Bridget Cleary was still alive when they left. It is unclear exactly when she died, however her dead body was discovered on March 22, 1895, 1300 yards from the Cleary home, wrapped in a sheet and buried in a shallow grave. Her entire back and lower abdomen had been burned: roasted clear to the bone, her internal organs visible. Her right hand was severely burned but her face, hair, breasts, shoulders, neck, legs, and feet remained unscathed. There were marks about her face and mouth and bruises on her neck, believed to be the result of choking. Death was caused by extensive burns, with the official cause given as “shock due to burns.”
Eleven people were arrested in connection with the murder of Bridget Cleary, including the 16-year-old neighbor who stood quietly in the corner, holding the candle.
There are two ways to understand the saga of Bridget Cleary:
There is no possession, there’s no such thing, therefore it’s deadly superstition or an excuse for fatal spousal abuse. (And local gossip alleged that Bridget had a lover.)
Regardless of whether Bridget was or was not possessed her husband and family feared rather than understood fairies. The Fairy Faith was not charming to them. Fairies were considered devils to be exorcized; the “changeling” was considered a witch to be burned, as were perhaps practitioners of the old Fairy Faith.
Bridget Cleary’s mother was locally rumored to be a witch. If one believes that Bridget Cleary was attempting to follow in her late mother’s and mother-in-law’s footsteps and become a traditional fairy doctor herself, perhaps she was burned as a witch to prevent achievement of her goals.
The methods of exorcism to which her family resorted were not typical of the Fairy Faith, whose practitioners openly derived their skills from fairies. Instead the herbal cures and rituals were heavily influenced by Roman Catholic rites of exorcism and also by published accounts of witch-trial ordeals. Trial testimony indicated that invocation of the names of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost formed a significant part of the exorcism ritual.
Although Michael Cleary was mocked for believing in fairies, his actions were not those of a practitioner of the Fairy Faith but were grounded in folk Catholicism. Bridget’s screams were ignored because they were considered the screams of the invading spirit (fairy and/or demon). Lying in bed, Bridget told a visiting cousin that her husband was “making a fairy of me now” and that “He thought to burn me about three months ago.”
How to interpret these statements? Did Michael Cleary genuinely believe she was a fairy or beneath the mask was this just a case of spousal abuse or both? Was the goal to break the fairies’ charm or to break the spirit of an independent woman?
The crime was a major public scandal; the “fairy murder” was popular with the media and drew international attention, much to the displeasure of the local authorities who felt it made the region appear primitive and ignorant. Although Michael Cleary and Bridget’s family was arrested for her murder, there was ambivalence toward Bridget as well. She had not been generally beloved; whether “abducted” or not, she had clearly been dabbling with fairies.
Attitudes toward Bridget may be demonstrated by her funeral, or lack thereof:
In a macabre dénouement, Bridget’s body could not be released to her family, all of whom had been arrested and were confined in Clonmel Gaol. Police called for the clergy but no priests in the district responded: Roman Catholic priests were strictly charged against performing sacraments where fairy-craft was suspected. Those who died under suspicion were refused Church burial.
The body of Bridget Cleary was finally buried at night by four policemen who read part of the burial service over her body. They had obtained a simple coffin for Bridget and brought her body to the Roman Catholic cemetery at Cloneen, where she was buried outside the church walls beside the unmarked grave of her mother near an oak tree. Bridget Cleary and her mother lie together in unmarked graves outside the church walls. No headstones exist but two stones mark the site.
During the trial, absolutely no discussion of fairies, or even any reference to them, was permitted. Michael Cleary was found guilty of manslaughter, not murder, and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment, of which he served 15. Other defendants received lesser sentences depending upon perceived involvement.
Further Reading: Angela Bourke’s The Burning of Bridget Cleary (Viking, 1999) and Joan Hoff and Marian Yeates’ The Cooper’s Wife is Missing (Basic Books, 2000).
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.
Witchcraft Trials Involving Fairies
Fairies may seem whimsical, sweet, and harmless today but demonstrating an interest in them was once considered witchcraft. Early in the witch-trial era, particularly in France, devotion to fairies and membership in fairy societies was among the forms of witchcraft that the Inquisition wished to prosecute and eliminate.
Bernardo Gui’s The Inquisitor’s Manual, published c.1324 and among the earliest witch-hunters’ manuals, instructs Inquisitors to question sorcerers, diviners, and necromancers “on the subject of fairies who bring good fortune, or it is said, who run around at night.”
Later on, as witchcraft became associated with diabolism and Satan-worship, the Inquisition was no longer interested in fairies unless devotion to them corresponded to what the Church considered standardized Satanic practice. Some of those charged with witchcraft disagreed: some, particularly in Hungary and Italy, acknowledged membership in fairy societies. Some even acknowledged these to be witchcraft, but denied that these practices had anything to do with Satan. Instead of worshipping Satan, these practitioners claimed devotion to beautiful, benevolent fairy queens who provided them with pleasure and material gifts, including food.
Trial transcripts are fascinating (from a distance!) because one observes that this talk of fairies and feminine rites (a lot of attention is paid to the fairies’ beautiful clothes, jewels, and coiffeurs) bores the male ecclesiastical Inquisitors: they want to talk about heresy, sacrilege, and the devil. Eventually, presumably after application of threats and torture, the witnesses’ discussion of fairies inevitably transforms into standardized descriptions of sacrilege (sex with the devil, ritual mutilation of Communion wafers, etc.). Because lengthy transcripts of the trials survive, this transformation may sometimes be observed.
On March 18, 1430, judges at Rouen asked Joan of Arc whether she knew anything about those who “went or traveled through the air with the fairies.” She denied first-hand knowledge but acknowledged being aware of this practice. She describes it as “sorcerie” and reported that it took place in her region on Thursdays.
Alison Peirsoun of Byrehill, Scotland, was visited by the ghost of a dead relative, William Sympsoune, who took her to see elves and fairies. Fairies taught Alison to prepare healing ointments so skillfully that when Patrick Adamson, Archbishop of St Andrews (c.1543—1591) was ill, he sent for her. She did, in fact, cure him. Having recovered, the Archbishop reconsidered the situation. He refused to pay Alison her fee, attributing her skills to the devil. She was charged with witchcraft. Alison was arrested and tortured. She subsequently confessed and accused many others of consorting with elves. She was burned at the stake.
In 1662, Isobel Gowdie of Scotland volunteered a confession of witchcraft. She claimed that she went to the Queen of the Fairies who gave her meat—more meat than she could possible eat. Transcripts indicate that Inquisitors became bored with Isobel’s story, her fairy-tale descriptions of the Queen of Fairy. They wanted to hear about the devil, and soon Isobel indeed changed her testimony. (Isobel Gowdie is among the mysteries of the Burning Times. It is unknown why she voluntarily confessed to witchcraft, nor what ultimately became of her.)
During a 1745 Hungarian witchcraft trial, several women including an Erzsébet Ràcz argued they were not witches but members of the “Convent of Saint Helen,” which may perhaps be understood as the “Society of Tündér Ilona.” (Saint Helen is also the name given the Fairy Goddess in the Balkans.)
See also Fairy Magician, Sicilian Fairy Cult, Tündér; WITCHCRAZE!