Myths / Mythologies / Legends

Faeries and Witchcraft
archived 10-19-99
Archive file# m101999b
donated by James Vandale

Faeries and Witchcraft

Terrestrial devils are those Lares, Genii, Fauns, Satyrs, Wood-nymphs, Foliots, Fairies, Robin Goodfellows, Trulli, etc. which as they are most conversant with men, so they do them most harm.

--Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy (1577-1640)

This is NOT a page about Wiccans or neo-pagans, and I do not advocate the belief that Wiccans are Satan-worshippers and/or baby-killers. I am well aware that they are not. This is a starting point for historical research into the great witch craze of 1100-1700 AD. And please, don't ask me for spells.

From the Latin term for "fate" (fata), faeries (or fairies) are a "host of supernatural beings and spirits who occupy a limbo between earth and heaven" (Guiley 1989 117). Faeries could be either good or evil creatures, and at various points in history have been confused with witches. Fay or fey is the archaic term for faerie meaning bewitched or enchanted. The state of enchantment is fayerie, which became fairy and faerie. In an attempt to save their own lives, many accused European witches claimed to have been taught their arts by faeries. These witches believed that faerie-taught craft may not be seen as malevolent as that taught by the Devil. However, the clergy conveniently allied faeries with the Devil. Several theories exist for the origins of faeries:

Faeries are tiny humans. There is some evidence small-statured races occupied part of Europe in the Bronze Age and Neolithic periods before the population by the Celts. Known at the Thuatha de Danaan in Ireland, they lived in shelters burrowed under mounds and hills. As more aggressive races migrated into their territories, these secretive little people retreated into the forests. However, some possibly maintained a guerilla warfare against the newcomers, giving rise to the legends of Rob Roy and Robin Hood.

Faeries are nature spirits. Faeries were believed to be some of the spirits which populate all places and objects on Earth. Faeries are fallen angels. In the lore of Scandinavia, Scotland, and Ireland, when God cast Lucifer and his angels from heaven, God raised His hand and stopped them in mid-fall. These angels were condemned to remain where they were, becoming the faeries of seas and rivers, the earth, and the air.

Faeries are the souls of dead pagans. Since the pagans are unbaptized, they are neither considered good enough to go to heaven nor bad enough to go to hell. They are therefore caught in a netherworld, becoming faeries (Guiley 1989 117).

Faeries are the children of Adam and Lilith. In the folklore of Norway, faeries, or tusse, are the children of Adam and Lilith (Odegaard). Faeries are the hidden children of Adam and Eve. In Norse folklore, Eve went on to have a multitude of children after Cain, Abel, and Seth. She had so many children, even in her years in which women stop bearing, that she was ashamed. When God asked to meet all her children, she brought out a flock of them, but left quite a few behind because she was embarassed. God understood, but felt hurt, and he said the children she was hiding from him would always be hidden from her. The missing children were then transformed into faeries, or haug-folk (Skar).

Witches and Faeries: The Similarities
Many similarities between witch and faerie beliefs existed.

rode in the Wild Hunt (See the Sluagh)
cast and broke spells
healed people
divined the future and the location of lost objects
danced and sang beneath the full moon
trafficked with the Devil
metamorphosized, levitated, or caused others to fly or change shape
stole unbaptized children
poisoned people
stole horses and rode them to exhaustion during the night
avoided salt
were repelled by iron

According to King James I in his Daemonologie, Diana was both the goddess of witches and the Queen of Faerie. Oberon was both the Kind of Faerie and a demon summoned by magicians (Guiley 1989 118). Both faeries and witches were believed to create fairy rings. Fairy rings are circles or inedible mushrooms that grow in grassy areas in North America, Europe, and Britain. Also called hag tracks in Britain, they are believed to be created by witches' dancing feet. According to folklore, fairy rings are magical circles in which witches and faeries meet to sing and dance at night (Guiley 1991 156).

Faeries and Witch Trials

Faeries were frequently considered to be the familiars of witches, and they figured in numerous witch trials (Guiley 1989 118). According to Reginald Scot in his 1584 work the Discoverie of Witchcraft, the three sister faeries Sibylia, Achilia, and Milia were useful in acquiring invisibility.And if they came not at the first night, then do the same the second night, and so the third night, until they do come: for doubtless they will come, and lie thou in they bed, and look thou have a fair silken kerchief bound about thy head, and be not afraid, they will do thee no harm. For there will come before thee three fair women, and all in white clothing, and one of them will put a Ring upon thy finger, wherewith thou shall go invisible. When thou hast this Ring on thy finger, look in a Glass, and thou shalt not see thyself (Wedeck 77). The following people were thought to have either been faeries, or witches with faerie dealings:

The Faerie Witch
Isobel Gowdie
John Walsh
Bessy Dunlop
Alison Pearson
Bridget Cleary

In European folklore, a changeling is an imbecilic or deformed offspring of dwarves, elves, or faeries surruptitiously substituted by them for a human child. The belief in changelings seems to have arisen from the idea children are susceptible to demonic possession. Some believed faeries preyed only upon unbaptized infants. In legend, the abducted human offspring are either used to strengthen faerie stock or are given to Satan. The return of the original child "may be effected by making the changeling laugh or by torturing it; this latter belief was responsible for numerous cases of actual child abuse" (Britannica Online - Changeling).


Faeries and Witchcraft copyright 1997-1998 to Shantell Powell.

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