Eric W. Edwards: 23rd April 1944 – 13th July 2017


It is with great sadness that I announce that my father and author of this beautiful site passed away peacefully on 13th July 2017. A brilliant mind and exceptional father.

His site will remain here and I will also add on any further pieces for you all enjoy in time. Thank all you of who have enjoyed this site over years.

Owen P. Edwards





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The Legend of Saint George and the Dragon



St. George and the Dragon. Raphael.


St. George is a Christianised representation of the mythic sun-horse that reflects the inter-changeability of the hero and the horse. Another example is the ancient Celtic mare goddess known as Epona. Therefore, as a saint George is a patron of “…soldiers and sailors, the protector of rocky and dangerous coasts.” (Brown, 1950). In another aspect a descendant of the seafarers horse (Clarke, ). St. George is a representation of the Thracian ‘Rider God’ depicted in Hero-reliefs as a fight between a hero and a boar. The image has a religio-mythic significance of a hunting god that is “…principally honoured as a chthonic divinity.” (Kazarow, 1938). The Hero is presented as a powerful nature divinity, an ancestral image of the hunter-rider-hero.

Tradition places the birth of St. George at Lydda on the coast of Palestine not far from Phoenicia. The two locations where the activities of St. George centre are firstly those of Lydda or Ludd in Palestine where he was martyred, and secondly in Libya where he killed the dragon. The Phoenician version of the legend is derived from the hero and dragon in the myth of Perseus and Andromeda. In their turn the Phoenicians took the ancient story with them to Carthage and thence to Gades, the ancient Roman colony of Cadiz. It is most likely that the myth, the legend, became attached to the saint, each representing “…the powers of light destroying the powers of darkness.” (Brown, 1950), with the dragon that threatened Andromeda coming out of the sea.

In folklore St. George is closely connected with the ‘hero’ although he “…appears to be almost as mythical as the monster he disposed of…” (Leach, 1955). Two reliefs from Moesia show him protecting two horses accompanied by Epona. The Thracians, who were later absorbed by invading Slavs, had their beliefs absorbed by the Slavs as they overran the Balkans. There developed a mutual influence of Thracian and Christian beliefs. It is noteworthy that in Thracian beliefs the quake, or ‘Kraken wakes’, is a symbol of the soul not that of a dragon.

The cult of St. George is of greater antiquity than that of St. George himself, and one of “…those saints whose history is almost entirely a matter of mythology of folklore.” (Heath-Stubbs, 1984). The legend of St. George centres about a soldier martyred by Diocletian for refusal to denounce his Christian faith. The offender was a Roman soldier who tore down Diocletian’s edicts of his intention to persecute the Christians. This historical incident refers not to but to George but to Nestor. The dragon is the mythic element, a “…typical specimen of the maiden-eating variety.” (Leach, 1955). There is some identification with George of Cappadocia, the Arian Bishop of Alexandria who died in 362 and a nameless hero executed for destroying the edicts of Diocletian. George of Cappadocia was a corrupt and unattractive individual, put in prison for his crimes, and thence released by a pagan mob and torn to pieces (Heath-Stubbs, 1984).

The question therefore arises concerning the existence of a cult of an entirely fictitious saint. In the legend the hero, St. George, was tormented and then executed seven times in succession, whereupon on each occasion he was resurrected to life by St. Michael. to life. St. George was worshipped widely from the 3rd century onwards in the Near East, though it “…seems doubtful whether there ever was an historical St. George.” (Leach, 1955), who was adopted as England’s patron saint only at the time of the crusades.

The popularity of St. George of England has nothing to do with Richard the Lion Heart ((1157-199), but originates in the 15th century (Morris, 2009). The cult of St. George did originate in the eastern Mediterranean during the 4th century AD , being transferred to England at a later date. It was during the 13th century, during the reign of Henry III, that interest in royal and aristocratic circles became centred on St. George. Indeed, it seems that the belief in St. George, who was known to the Anglo-Saxons as an early Christian martyr, was transferred to England only in the middle ages.


Sources used.

Brown, T. (1950). Turtullian and Horse-Cults in Britain. Folklore LXI (1).

Clarke, C. P. S. (1927). Everyman’s Book of Saints.

Davidson, H. R. E. (1984). The Hero in Tradition and Folklore. UCL. London.

Heath-Stubbs, J. (1984). The Hero as Saint: St. George. In: Davidson (1984).

Kazarow, G. (1938). The Thracian Rider and St. George. Antiquity, 47, September.

Morris, M. (2009). Slaying Myths: St. George and the Dragon. History Today, 59.

Williams, M. E. (1936). Whence came St George? Bulletin de la Societe Royale d’Archeologie d’Alexandrie.

Leach, E. R. (1955). St. George and the Dragon. In: Myth or Legend. G. Bell & Sons. London.


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The Earth Mother


Notes on ‘Mothers’

Spencer, B. & Gillen, F. J. The Native Tribes of Central Australia. Macmillan. 1889.

`A man, for example, will call his actual mother Mia, but at the same time he will apply the term not only to other grown women, but to a little girl child, provided they all belong to the same

group…the term Mia expressed the relationship in which she stood to  (58).

Bachofen, J. J. Myth, Religion and Mother Right. Princeton UP. 1967.

`Every woman’s womb, the mortal image of the earth mother Demeter will give brothers and sisters to the children of every other woman; the homeland will know only brothers and sisters until the day when the development of the paternal system dissolves the undifferentiated unity of the mass…’ (80).

Frazer, J. G. Totemism and Exogamy. Macmillan, 1910.

‘…we confuse our word “mother’ with the corresponding but by no means equivalent terms in the languages of savages who have the classificatory system. We mean by “mother” a woman who has given birth to a child: the Australian savages mean by “mother” a woman who stands in certain social relation to a group of men and women, whether she has given birth to any of them or not.’ (34, vol 1).

Briffault. The Mothers.

`The word “medicine” is derived from a root meaning “knowledge” or “wisdom” — the wisdom of the “wise woman”. The name of Medea, the medical herbalist witch, comes from the same root… ‘ (486, vol 1).

The power of witchcraft is universally regarded as appertaining specifically to women. The witch is a woman, the wizard is but a male imitation of the original wielder of magic power…every woman, wherever magic powers are believed in, is credited with the possession of those powers because she is a woman.’ (556, vol 2).

Malinowski, B. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. Dutton, NY. 1961. it is clear that in a matrilineal society, where the mother is the nearest of kin to ter children in a sense quite different to that in our society, they share in and inherit from her all her possessions.’ (178).

Reed, E. Woman’s Evolution. Pathfinder Press, NY. 1975.

`…the maternal clan system was the original from of social organisation.’ (xiii).

‘…a clan and tribal system based on maternal kinship and in which women played a leading role.’ (xiv).

the maternal clan…was founded upon a collectivity of women who were sisters to one another and mothers to all the children of the community…’ (14).

`…the maternal clan system, which gave an honoured place to women, was also a collectivist order where the members of both sexes enjoyed equality and did not suffer oppression or discrimination.’ (xiv).

matriarchy was the necessary first form of social organisation because women were not only the procreators of new life but also the chief producers of the necessities of life.’ (xv).

`To us as mother is an individual woman who bears a child; she does not become a mother until and unless she gives birth. But in primitive society motherhood was a social function of the female sex; thus all women were actually or potentially “the mothers’ of the community” ‘. (13).

`Women’s pre-eminence as cultivators was registered in the fertility rites and other practices conducted by the female sex, as well as their glorification as “goddesses”.’ (131-132).

The hearth fire has always been associated with women…The renewers of fire, the tenders of fire, and the transporters of fire were from the most ancient times women.’ (145).

The witch and the sorcerers were predecessors of the goddess. In primitive society women were witches because of their mysterious powers of production and procreation. They could bear children and make crops grow; they could control fire; establish settlements, and make rules for the disciplined social behaviour of men.’ (148).

`With the rise of patriarchal influences some of the witches became transformed into goddesses, the subordinate wives or companions of the gods. In the transitional period from matriarchy to patriarchy, former female deities were even replaced by male figures.’ (149).

‘…the male culture-hero of the matriarchal epoch evolved into the patriarchal god…’ (149). After this shift took place ‘…the mythical world was no longer populated by mothers and culture-hero sons and grandsons but by gods and their sons (sun-gods). The goddesses were by and large reduced to wives bearing sons for the gods.’ (149).

‘As Mother Earth or the Goddess of Fertility, women bring forth abundance of food from the earth and also bear children. In their cooperative groups they are known as “The fates”, the spinners and weavers of the destiny of mankind, as well as “The Graces” and “The Charities”. But whatever the specific names given to women — whether Pot or Venus, witch or goddess — in the beginning they were the mother-governesses of the matriarchy.’ (151).

‘Once men came into possession of their own disposable property, they could effect the full transition from the matrifamily to the one-father family…the new social order founded upon private property and the father family vanquished the matriarchy.’ (405-6).

‘Baal, the lord deity of the sacrificial era, now takes an earthly, patriarchal form as lord and master of livestock, of women and children, and other properties… a new posture is ordained for women… down on their knees in worship of their lords on earth and in the heavens.’ (428).

Smith, W. Robertson. Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia. Beacon, Boston. 1903.

On ‘dominion marriage’ — ‘Accordingly the husband in this kind of marriage is called, not in Arabia only, but also among the Hebrews and Aramaeans, the woman’s “lord” or “owner” (bag,

ba’al, be’e/) ….I propose to call it ba’al marriage or marriage of dominion, and to call the wife be-ulah or subject wife.’ (92-93).

Hoebel, E. Adamson. Man in the Primitive World. McGraw-Hill, London. 1949.

‘The word chattel, which means any object of personal ownership is derived from the Old French chatel… cattle has the same origin. Chatel has its ultimate etymology in the Latin caput, or head. Chatel in ancient France referred to the property of greatest value, head property. Cattle were so much the chief form of property among our pastoral ancestors that our specialised word for personal property grew from the same root.’ (342-43).

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The Miners’ Safety Lamp



Miners’ lamps in the Pitt Rivers Museum

In case 141.A in the Court are displayed three examples of miners’ safety lamps. One lamp (1932.88.1152) was collected by Henry Balfour and donated by him in 1932. This lamp is of the type invented by Sir Humphrey Davy in 1816 and is an example employing wire gauze to make a naked flame safe in a gaseous atmosphere. Another lamp is made of brass and has a glass safety surround with above it a metal gauze tube. Another example is a later safety lamp (post 1839) with linear wick possibly burning naphthalene (lighter fuel). The gauze does not go all the way to the top but ends in a gauze cap. The lamp is topped by a brass arch and hook for suspension. Situated in between these two is a later model (1930.22.2) that was once owned by Alfred Walter Francis. Fuller and donated in 1930, and is the French Marsaut type made after 1882. The lower part has a glass surround with an upper gauze chimney completely enclosed in a metal bonnet. Most miners’ safety lamps made after 1882 had gauzes protected by such bonnets. The miners’ safety lamp was first and foremost a methane detector. Moreover “…you can still buy one, because even today every pit deputy must carry one, despite the universal use of electricity for lighting collieries.” (Adams, 2005).

Mine explosions due to fire-damp

Towards the end of the 18th century explosions in coal mines increased because seams were being dug at deeper levels. The use of steam engines for hoisting and water pumping enabled colliery deepening in England. At deeper levels fire-damp (methane) was more prevalent. At this time all explosions were attributed to fire-damp because the explosive nature of coal dust clouds was not recognised. Most explosions occurred at the point of a                      SDDDDDXtallow candle flame. Developing ventilation technology, which meant the presence of large pumps and winding gear both below and above ground, pushed the danger of fire-damp explosion into the background. Consequently, in the early 1800’s many pitmen died in northern England due to large colliery explosions. Indeed “…major incidents alone accounted for 558 deaths in Northumberland and Durham between 1786 and 1815…” (Adams, 2005).

Fire-damp or methane (CH4) is carburetted hydrogen. The gas is lighter than air and usually colourless and odourless. Fire-damp derives from bacteriological decay of the vegetable matter cellulose. Fire-damp in mines is really trapped marsh gas produced by chemical processes completed many millions of years previously. Fire-damp is able to combine with twice its volume of oxygen and after explosion leaves one volume of carbon dioxide (CO2) and two of hydrogen. In order to become explosive fire-damp has to achieve critical mixtures. A mixture of 90.5% air and 9.5% fire-damp can cause a devastating explosion but a mixture of about 7 or 8% of fire-damp is easier to ignite. The range of explosive capability is approximately mixtures of 5 to 15%.

A devastating mine explosion will create havoc amongst the equipment situated below. Not only will the violence kill by blast and fire but wreck brattices (shaft partitions), destroy accumulated corves (baskets), tubs, rolleys (vehicles), ponies and horses. Moreover, the destruction of ventilation systems will lead to the asphyxiation of colliers by lethal after-damp resulting from combustion. This after-damp is a toxic gas mixture consisting of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. Another lethal gas, black damp or choke damp (also known as stythe) is formed in mines when oxygen is removed from an enclosed atmosphere. This asphyxiant consists of argon, water vapour, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. The term damp is believed derived from the German dampf or vapours and similar mining terms are white-damp (carbon monoxide) and stink- damp (hydrogen sulphide).

Initially an explosion is a violent out-rush of gas from the ignition source, but an inevitable and following in-rush (termed an after-blast by miners) fills the vacuum left by cooling gases and steam condensation. There are many causes of ignition of fire-damp in mine explosions. In the early days explosions resulted mainly from naked flame lamps and the accumulations of gas called blowers. Other reasons included the use of the early flint steel mill, defective safety lamps, flame from shot firing tunnel explosives, and sparks from faulty machinery, metal implements, and electrical equipment.

Historical background

The Felling mine explosion, on the 25th of May 1812, was one of the first major pit disasters in England, and claimed 92 lives. This was the first great explosion that provided reasonably accurate records. Felling colliery, situated between Gateshead and Jarrow in County Durham (now South Tyneside), was extended in 1810 with a new deeper seam — Low Main. The pit had two shafts in use — William Pit and John Pit.

The colliery was owned by John and William Brandling and their partners Grace and Henderson.

It was in the new seam that the engulfing explosion took place. An ignition of fire­damp triggered a coal dust explosion with devastating effect. The blast was heard up to 4 miles away and around the pit small coal, timber and wrecked corves (wagons or large baskets) rained down. Both headgears of the shafts were destroyed and a huge blanket of coal dust caused a dusk-like twilight in neighbouring Heworth where it descended like black snow. It took nearly seven weeks to remove the dead after putting out fires and waiting for the after-damp to disperse. Ninety-two men and boys lost their lives and the eventual funeral procession comprised ninety coffins when it finally reached the church. The aftermath of the tragedy was first effort to establish a properly co-ordinated movement of public opinion in favour of mine safety. This movement not only aroused scientific interest and endeavour in the cause of accident prevention. It also drew attention to the need for a flame lamp that would not ignite fire-damp, and to devise a means of lighting safe in a gaseous atmosphere.

A major protagonist in the campaign was one Reverend John Hodgeson (1779­1845), ministrant to the bereaved and he who buried their dead as incumbent of the parish of Jarrow and Heworth. Hodgeson was instrumental in establishing the accident prevention society which came to fruition in Sunderland on 1.10.1813. Sir Humphry Davy was enlisted by the Society in Sunderland to investigate the phenomenon of fire-damp. It was correspondence between Hodgeson and others that caused Davy to journey to Durham in 1815. Davy began work in August of that year on fire-damp dispatched from Hebburn Colliery in sealed wine bottles. Meanwhile, inspired by the Felling disaster “…an almost untutored genius at Killingworth Colliery on the north bank of the Tyne was trying independently to discover the means to produce a reliable lamp.” (Duckham, 1973). This was George Stephenson, a then unknown engineer, who was backed by a Nicholas wood, a Richard Lambert, and the Bramblings as owners of Felling Colliery.

Spedding devised the flint and steel mill in 1740 as the first serious attempt to provide pit lighting, but it proved to be of dubious safety as well as cumbersome and clumsy, requiring constant working by a boy. A famous medical member of the Society was a certain Dr William Reid Clanny (1776-1850) who himself since late 1811 had been attempting to devise a safety lamp. His efforts eventually had him awarded gold and silver medals by the Society of Arts. William Martin (1772-1851) also invented a safety lamp, accepted by pitmen but not by the mine-owners and it was suppressed. Martin, who lectured on Davy’s “murder” lamp tested his lamp at Willington Colliery, near Wallsend 1n 1818 (Adams, 2005).

William Reid Clanny was an Irish inventor born in Bangor, County Down, in 1770, and who died in Sunderland (after practising as a physician for 45 years) in 1850. Clanny invented the Clanny Safety Lamp in 1813 and published his observations in 1816. This lamp was first used Herringham Mill pit where Clanny had experimented in person. Northern coal owners and other contemporaries noted the value of his lamp which was emphasised in his obituary in the Sunderland Herald. After his first “blast lamp” of 1813 he maintained his interest in lighting in gaseous environments and created six other lamps.

The last two are regarded as true Clanny lamps, between 1839 and 1842. The 1813 lamp, which was an oil lamp, was operated by a bellows with the flame isolated behind glass by water reservoirs. It was seen as clumsy and, as it went out in the presence of gas, of little practicality in a coal mine. On Clanny’s lamp Stephenson considered “…it as constructed upon a principle entirely different from mine, that of separating the external and internal hydrogen by means of water.” (Stephenson, 1817 a).

George Stephenson’s Geordie lamp

George Stephenson was born in Wylam (as was William Hedley the inventor of the locomotive “Puffing Billy”) nine miles west of Newcastle on 9.6.1781 and died 12.8.1848. He was the second son of Robert Stephenson, foreman of the Wylam Colliery pumping engine. Aged 14 he was an assistant fireman to his father at Dewley Colliery, then at Duke’s Winning Pit at Newburn. Aged 17 he was engineman at Water Row Pit west of Newburn and in 1801 began working at Dolly pit at Black Callerton Colliery as a “brakeman” (controlling pit winding gear). Married in 1802 he moved to Wilkington Quay east of Newcastle working as a brakeman. He moved again, as a brakeman, in 1804 to West Moor working at Killingworth Pit and the adjacent Mid Hill Winning Pit. The pumping engine at High Pit, Killingworth, had to be repaired by him in 1811. As a result he was elevated to an engine-wright for the surrounding collieries of Killingworth. Yet it was not until 1799 that he began, in his spare time, to learn to read and write.

After the Felling disaster Stephenson began, in 1813, experimenting with a safety lamp that could employ a naked flame without igniting an explosion. It was his conclusion that “… if a lamp could be made to contain the burnt air above the flame, and permit the firedamp to come in below in small quantity to be burnt as it came in, the burnt air would prevent the passing of the explosion upwards and the velocity of the current from below would also prevent its passing downwards.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1962). It was after 1811, to Stephenson’s credit, that he started to apply his inventive capacities to design a miners’ safety lamp. His design was one which used small tubes to allow the entry of air to support combustion and passage of gases.

This lamp design was arrived at by trial and error and the prototype was tested at Killingworth on 21.10.1815. An improved version was tested again on the 4.11.1815 and 30.11.1815, and shown to R. W. Brambling and a Mr Murray on the 24th of November, when he “…had just built his first locomotive at Killingworth Colliery.” (Adams, 2005). The test was at a fire-damp issuing fissure underground in Killingworth pit a month before Sir Humphry Davy presented his design to the Royal Society in London. Stephenson showed his successful safety lamp design to the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society on 5.12.1815.

Stephenson’s lamp became known as the Geordie lamp. Unlike the Davy lamp it had no gauze but glass around the flame, gave a brighter light and was popular with miners. Glass breakage was a problem with the Geordie lamp but, with the invention of safety glass, this was later resolved. The Geordie lamp, unlike the Davy lamp, was employed exclusively in the north east pits. Stephenson was unaware that Sir Humphry Davy was working on the same problem. Sir Humphry applied scientific methods and analysis whereas Stephenson relied on practical empiricism and, lacking Davy’s laboratory facilities, worked in his own home and was obviously “…blessed with a fertile mind and considerable mechanical ingenuity.” (Barnard, 1936).


Sir Humphry Davy’s lamp

The Davy lamp of 1815 contained a candle, even though he is recognised as the inventor of the safer oil burning lamp, and some of the ideas of Canny and Stephenson. The Sunderland Society for the Prevention of Accidents in Mines charged Sir Humphry Davy with investigation of the problem of mine explosions. It was Davy who surmised that a flame cannot ignite fire-damp or mine-damp if contained with a wire mesh. He showed this using a 28 openings to the inch metal gauze. This mesh screen, using two concentric mesh tubes to increase safety, cooled combustion products so that flame heat was too low to ignite the gases outside the gauze. This gauze contraption functioned therefore as a flame arrestor. The fine mesh permitted methane to pass through but stopped the passage of the flame itself. The first trial was carried out at Hebburn Colliery on 9.1.1816.

Flammable gases were noted to burn with a blue tinge flame and when placed on the ground the flame went out due to accumulations of the asphyxiant gas (CO2) known as black-damp or choke-damp. Davy was performing experiments with fire-damp at the same time as others. In 1815 he realised that the holes of fine metal gauze acted the same as narrow tubes (viz Stephenson’s lamp), thus mine air passed through small orifices fed a flame that would not ignite the outside gas. Davy’s original experiments with fire-damp “…discovered its ‘lag’ on ignition.” (Barnard, 1936). Davy’s lamp [see 1932.88.1152] was eventually surrounded by metal mesh and thus differed from Stephenson’s lamp with its glass surround. Thus Davy wrote, in a communication of 1816 that his “… invention consists in covering or surrounding the flame of a lamp or candle by a wire sieve…”, and further that his object “…at present is only to point out their application to the use of the collier.” (Davy, 1816 b.)


The controversy over priority

Davy was in France and Italy 1813 to 1815 but on his return started experiments with lamps for colliery use. H. R. Clanny and the then unknown George Stephenson had already shown the idea of a safety lamp. In 1813 the Society for Preventing Accidents in Coal Mines was formed in Sunderland (TWAS 1589 cited Smith, J. 2001) and which was directed by Reverend John Hodgeson who invited Davy in 1815 to research fire-damp (Northumberland Record Office, cited in Smith. 2001).

George Stephenson was directly involved as a mining engineer and already experimenting with fire-damp and a safety lamp (Stephenson, 1817 a). In his own time Stephenson’s research led to “…the consequent formation of a Safety Lamp, which has been, and is still, used in that concern…” which his friends considered “…as precisely the same in principle with that subsequently presented to their notice by Sir Humphry Davy.” (Stephenson, 1817 b).

It was to Stephenson that we were “… indebted for the discovery of the Principle of Safety…” that hydrogen will not explode down narrow tubes and “…will hereafter recognise as the Stephenson Principle.” (Charnley, 1817). The Principle was pointed out to several persons long before Davy came into the County, and Stephenson’s lamp was in the hands of the manufacturer during Davy’s visit. (Stephenson, 1817 b.). Stephenson made “…three lamps, all perfectly safe: and by following precisely the same steps,  Sir Humphry Davy was enabled subsequently to construct one…” (Charnley, 1817). The Northumberland Record Office possesses 37 unpublished letters signed by Davy dated September 1815 to March 10th, 1818, and known as the Hodgeson Bequest. Within this context Davy made “…complete acknowledgement of the priority of Mr Stephenson’s claims”, and moreover “…acknowledges the same principle of safety which Mr Stephenson had previously established and proceeded with his experiments in the same way.” (Charnley, 1817).

Admitting that “…my habits, as a practical mechanic, make me afraid of publishing theories…” Stephenson avowed that the principle “…has been successfully applied in the construction of a lamp that may be carried with perfect safety into the most explosive atmosphere” (Stephenson, 1817 a). Davy’s response described the dispute as a “…indirect attack on my scientific fame, my honour, and veracity.” (Davy, cited in Smith, J. 2001). It seemed to many that “…the invention of a miners’ lamp, similar in design to Davy’s, with a measure of evidence to suggest priority, by a largely uneducated colliery engineer, stuck in Davy’s craw.” (Smith, J. 2001). Especially as Stephenson had previously announced to many associates the principles of his lamp and begun its manufacture (Newcastle Chronicle, 1815, November 2nd). Davy only announced the results of his fire-damp experiments on 19th October.

In 1816 Davy was awarded £2000 as a public testimonial for his lamp whereas Stephenson received a miserly 100 guineas. The following furore at such a snub resulted in a local subscription that raised £1000 from local dignitaries, colliery owners and managers. A Resolution of the Coal Trade, August 319% 1816, considered the award to Davy for his safety lamp, but an adjourned coal owners meeting, 11.10.1816, credited Davy with inventing the safety lamp. At this point Stephenson joined the fray with letters, with supporting correspondents, in the Newcastle Chronicle.

A supporter opined “Mr Geo Stephenson, of Killingworth Colliery, was the person who first discovered and applied the principle upon which lamps may be constructed.” (Brandling, 1816, Newcastle Chronicle, August 29th).

Davy among many derided Stephenson and poured scorn on his invention and the priority dispute became “…characterised by local patriotism on the one hand and academic sneers on the other…” (Duckham. 1973). The experience with Davy made Stephenson distrust theoretical and scientific experts based in London for the remainder of his life. Davy has been described as “…less than fair to the man who was to father Britain’s railways” (Duckham, 1973), especially for others as the evidence awards conclusively “…the priority to Stephenson in the invention of the miners lamp.” (Smith, 2001). In token of gratitude Davy was awarded £2000 at the same time as Stephenson was accused of stealing Davy’s idea, and it is regrettable that “…Davy regarded Stephenson as no more than a pirate…” (Knight, 1996). It is noteworthy that Davy received his award “…at a banquet presided over by his old friend John Lambton, afterwards Earl of Durham, who had been with him at Bristol under the care of Dr Beddoes.” (Hartley, 1971).

Stephenson was exonerated by a local enquiry committee, termed Stephensonians, who awarded him £1000 but this proved unacceptable to Davy’s supporters. They refused to recognise how an uneducated man had arrived at the solution he had. It was only in 1833 that Stephenson was given equal claim to priority by a House of Commons Committee.


The miners’ safety lamp was an “… icon of the industrial revolution every bit as powerful as Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’ or the Iron Bridge at Coalbrookdale.” (Adams, 2005). The miners’ lamp, to whomever its invention may be credited “…should be regarded as a landmark in the history of civilisation.” (Barnard, 1936). With regard to his lamp Stephenson said it “…might be considered a want of candour were I not to take notice of the lamp constructed my Dr Clanny…” (Stephenson, 1817 b). Whereas it seems “…less than justice to Stephenson, that history seems to accept Davy’s right to priority, when the evidence suggests otherwise.” (Smith, 2001).

After the introduction of the Davy lamp there was an increase in mine explosions for a number of reasons. Firstly mine-owners delayed in installing gas extractors: secondly it encouraged re-opening dangerous pits, and working in methane rich seams was not curtailed. Also lamps were purchased by the miners, as well as the expensive candles from the company store, and not provided by the owners. Stephenson’s lamp became popular in the north east coalfields but Davy’s lamp was introduced elsewhere.

The priority controversy continues to reverberate to the present day as it has come to be recognised that “… Davy was not the inventor of the safety lamp…” and that “…his lamp was not really safe.” (Adams, 2005). Davy’s lamp was cheaper and thus preferred by the mine-owners. The attitude may mean the “…liberty of laissez-faire might imply the coal-owner was master in his own house; for the collier it merely secured his freedom to die violently by earth, fire or water.” (Duckham, 1973). Also Davy’s lamp, in wet conditions, deteriorated rapidly and rusting metal gauze made it even more unsafe.

Both the Davy Lamp and Stephenson’s lamp became “… unsafe in rapidly moving air-currents.” (Barnard, 1936). In effect — fire-damp explosions increased. Nonetheless the wire gauze of Davy’s lamp was eventually used in every subsequent safety lamp, with modifications, for nearly 200 years. It is noteworthy that Stephenson later adopted the principle of Davy’s gauze instead of tubes — it is this revised design that became known in the 19th century as the “Geordie Lamp”.

Regardless of who first invented the ‘first’ safety flame lamp for mines there is an important point to note. Its success was the culmination of principles discovered by three men — William R. Clanny, George Stephenson, and Sir Humphry Davy. Neither Davy or Stephenson patented their lamp designs. All three inventors worked independently, all around the same time, and each had some knowledge at least of each others work. It was Clanny who separated the flame from the firedamp atmosphere of the mine. It was Davy who first enclosed the flame in wire gauze. It was Stephenson who first left a space above the flame for burnt air. And indeed the lamps of the three were all eventually fitted with wire gauze. The lamps were thus the fruits of work representing an “…untypical conjuncture of requirements of growing industrialism and the resources of scientific enquiry.” (Duckham, 1973). The modified lamps have remained an integral part of the mining industry up to and beyond the demise of most of the coal industry after the colliery closures following the miners strike of 1984.

References and sources consulted

Adams, Max. Humphry Davy and the Murder Lamp: Max Adams Investigates the truth behind the Introduction of a Key Invention of the Early Industrial Revolution. History Today, Vol 55, August 2005. Bod Camera, S.Hist. Per 12.

Barnard, T. R.. Miners’ Safety Lamps. Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons Ltd, London, 1936. RSL: 186415.e.34

Brandling, 1816. Newcastle Chronicle, August 29th.

Charnley, E.. A Collection of all the Letters which have appeared in the Newcastle Papers, with other documents, relating to the Safety lamps. By S. Hodgeson, Newcastle, 1817. Bod 247828.e.4.

Clanny, William Reid. Practical observations on safety lamps for coal mines. Garbutt, G. Sunderland, 1816.

Davies, H. George Stephenson. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1975.

Davy, Humphry. (a) On the Fire-Damp of Coal Mines and on Methods of Lighting the Mines So as to Prevent Its Explosion. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Vol 106, 1816, 1-22

Davy, Humphry. (b) An Account of an Invention for Giving light in Explosive Mixtures of Fire-Damp in Coal Mines, by Consuming the Fire-Damp. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Vol 106, 1816, 23-24.

Davy, Humphry. (c) Philosophical Magazine. 47 (212). 1816

Davy, Humphry. On the safety lamp for preventing explosions in mines… Hunter, R. London, 1825.

Dictionary of National Biography.

Duckham, H. & B. Great Pit Disasters: Great Britain 1700 to the Present day. David & Charles, 1973. Bod Stack 1795.e.569.

Encyclopaedia Britannica, London, 1962. Vol 19 (809d). Hartley, Sir H. Humphry Davy. S.R. Publishers Ltd, 1971.

Hendrick, D.J. & Sizer, K. E. “Breathing” coal mines and surface asphyxiation from stythe (blackdamp). BMJ. 305, August 29, 1992.

Knight, D. Humphry Davy. Cambridge U P, 1996.

Lawrence, C. The Power and the Glory: Humphry Davy and Romanticism. In Cunningham, A & Jardine, N. Romanticism and the Sciences. CUP, 1990.

Newcastle. Report upon the claims of Mr. George Stephenson, relative to the invention of his safety lamp. Constable and Co. Edinburgh, 1817.

Newcastle Chronicle, 2.11.1815. Newcastle Courant, 26.10.1815

North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers. See:  Northumberland Record Office. ZAN/M.14/A.1.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004. Smith, Alan. Newcomen Bulletin. September 1998 (cited in Smith, J. 2001).

Smith, Jeffrey. George Stephenson and the Miner’s Lamp Controversy. North East History, 34, 2001. Bod Stack P.F.04009

Stephenson, G. (a) A Description of the Safety Lamp, invented by George Stephenson, and now in use in Killingworth Colliery. 2nd Edition. Constable and Co, Edinburgh, 1817. Bod 247828.e.4

Stephenson, G. (b) Philosophical Magazine. March, 1817.

Tyne and Wear Archives, TWAS 1589.

Eric W Edwards. Balfour Library Assistant. July 2009.

3620 words excluding reference

Chronology of the Stephenson and Davy Lamps

Sept 1815.                         Stephenson publishes principle of lamp.

15.10.1815                        Davy receives fire-damp

19.10.1815                        Davy realises explosion will not pass through small tubes

21.10.1815                        Stephenson tests his tube lamp in Killingworth Colliery

25.10.1815                        Davy announces discovery to Chemical Society, London

30.10.1815                        Davy describes his principle on tubes in lamps

4.11.1815                          Stephenson tests improved lamp in Killingworth Colliery

9.11.1815                          Davy announces Tube Lamp to Royal Society, London.

Report in Newcastle Chronicle, 23.12.1815.

24.11.1815                        Stephenson orders double perforated plate lamp.

Lamp shown to Mr Brambling and Mr Murray.

30.11.1815                        Stephenson tries modified lamp in Killingworth Colliery

5.12.1815                            Stephenson shows his successful lamp to the Newcastle

Literary and Philosophical Society

23.12.1815                        Davy announces principle of gauze lamp.

Date of Newcastle Chronicle report of Davy’s gauze lamp.

9.1.1816                               First trial of Davy’s gauze lamp at Hebburn Colliery.

9.11.1816                         Davy writes in Newcastle that double gauze in preferable.

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Irish Chronicles

The Book of Leinster or Lebor Lainech or Leabhar Laighneach.  A 12th century medieval Irish manuscript of circa 1160. Formery known as Lebor na Nuachongbala – the Book of Nuachongbail.  It comprises early Leinster histories and poetry.

The second best source of Irish myth and legend after the Book of the Dun Cow.  Its monastic site = Oughaval. Date and provenance – composite work – principal compiler and scribe = Aed Ua Crimthainn. Abbot of the monastery of Tir-Da-Glas on Shannon.


Manuscript – produced by Aed + pupils – long period of time between 1151 and 1224. Written between 1151 and 1201. Probably complete by 1160’s. The Dinsenchas = lore and history of places – some is 11th century.

Manuscript may have been commissioned by Diamait Mac Murchada – died qq71 – the king of Leinster. Stronghold or dun = Dun Masc, near Oughal = An Nuachongbail.  History – whereabouts in 13th century unknown. In 14th century it came to light at Oughval. It may have been kept in the vicarage in between.

The Book of Leinster owes its present name to John O’Donavan, died 1861.  Commonly accepted manuscript originally known as the Lebor na Nuachongbala = the Book of Noghoval. Now Oughaval in County Laois.

Manuscript = 187 leaves. As many as 45 leaves lost.  Wide-ranging compilation = medieval Irish literature, sagas, and mythology. Therefore = Tain Bo Cuailnge – 8th century version of the Cattle Raid of Cooley. Also contains – Lebor Gabala Erenn – the Book of Invasions + Deirdre story + the grim tale of Boroama.

In addition – contains – metrical Dindshenshas + De excidio Troiae Historia. Plus the Martydom of Tallaght, the Exile of the sons of Usnech, Melodies of Buchet’s House, and the Destruction of Dinn Ris.

The Book of Ballymote = Leabhar Bhaile an Mhota.  Named – parish of Ballymote, County Sligo.  Compiled circa 1390 to 1391 in Sligo town.

Therefore = late 14th century manuscript of West of Ireland.  Contains mainly historical materials produced by the scribes Aolam O Droma + Robertus Mac Sithigh + Tonnalttagh McDonah.

Manuscript purchased  1522 by Aed Og O’Donnell, prince of Tir Conaill.  In 162 – given to Trinity College, Dublin.  In 1875 – returned to Royal Irish Academy.


Contains one version of the Birth of Cormac + adventures of the Sons of Eochu Muigmedon.  Contains motif of – loathly hag transformed to a beautiful woman by the kiss of the young Niall.  Contains the key to the Ogham alphabet + Irish version of the Aenid.

Leabhar Gabhala –  a narrative recounting the invasions of Ireland.  The work – presented as historical fact = based on myth and legend. Material is a source of Irish mythology.

The Book of Fermoy = A mid-15th century manuscript housed in the Royal Irish Academy.  Includes the text of Alcrom Tige Da Medar.  Fermoy – small town in north-east County Cork, 16 miles east of Mallow.

The Book of Lecan = sometimes called the Great book of Lecan. Distinguished from earlier Yellow Book of Lecan – by the same family of scribes in the same location.  This was thus – Leabhar Mor Mhic Fhir Bhisigh Leacain.

Compiled – circa 1400.  Manuscript = 600 pages contain genealogical material.  Also – a Book of Rights.  Lecan is a ruined former castle in the west of County Sligo – 2 miles north of Inishcrone.

The Book of Ui Maine = in Irish the Leabhar Ui Maine or Book of Hy Many. The manuscript includes portions of the Lebor Gabala or Book of Invasions. Also – genealogies, poetry, and family pedigrees.

A small early 14th or 15th codex.  Long possessed by descendants pf the Ui Maine sept that in medieval times much of County Galway + some of Roscommon.

Book of Armagh = the Liber Ardmachanus.  Includes both Irish and Latin materials.  Begun around 807 AD by Feardomnach in Armagh = the seat of the primate of Ireland.

Irish passages amongst earliest possessed.  Many Latin passages deal with the life of St. Patrick. An 11th century insertion is about Brian Borama (Boru) describing him as the Emperor of the Irish. Manuscript in Trinity College, Dublin.

The Book of the Dun Cow = Lebor na hUidre.  Irish vellum manuscript of 12th century AD.  Oldest extant manuscript in Irish. Badly damaged.  Held in Royal Irish Academy.


Book of the Dun Cow.

Only 67 leaves remain. Many texts incomplete. Made from the hide of a dun cow by Saint Ciaran of Clonmacnoise. Compiled before 1106 AD.

Contains the Mythological Cycle + the Ulster Cycle + the Voyage of Maelduin.  Included is the Tain Bo Cualilnge or Cattle Raid of Cooley. = the oldest epic in ancient European  sagas.

Disappeared at Cromwellian conquest and reappeared in 1837 – in a bookshop.

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The Origin and Lore of Fairies and Fairy Land

“Fairies were real once…”’ the lore of Fairies and Fairy Land



Spirit of the Night. Atkinson Grimshaw






Earlier Deities and Populations

Nature, Folklore and Fairy Tales

Fairies, Ancestors and the Dead


References and Sources Consulted



The term ‘fairy’ is used to loosely describe a type of legendary or mythical being of romance and folklore. These unsubstantial creatures are often of diminutive size (Edwards, 1974). As spiritual entities fairies are considered to be supernatural, preternatural or metaphysical beings in possession off unbounded magical powers. In European folklore and fairy tales they are described as typically invisible or non-substantial spirits who live on earth in proximity to, or in association with mortal human beings. Fairies are presumed to possess knowledge of hidden natural powers which therefore “…corresponds with their power of making time appear long or short to those mortals who are lured into their company.” (MacCulloch, 1912).

A characteristic and distinctive feature is their whimsicality and mischievous and prankish behaviour (Hartland, 1891).  Fairies can be of benevolent or malevolent, exerting good or bad influences over the lives of humans. Their magical attributes endow them with the ability to appear or disappear at will, or change shape into animal forms (Sayce, 1934). Fairy entities, in their restricted sense are unique in English folklore, though these non-human spirits abound Celtic and Germanic folk beliefs. Among European folk and fairy tales the fairies of French and Celtic romances are often merged with the elves of Teutonic myth. Similar stories of fairy-like creatures occur in other European traditions including the Latin and the Slavic, as well as their historical origin distilled from Celtic, Welsh and Breton medieval French romances and tradition. In many regions, including China, India, and Arabia with the Jinns, there are found beliefs in the existence of supernatural, sometimes dwarfish or pygmy-like ethereal entities. Their diminutive size and appearance was cultivated in response to the tales of Victorian ‘nursery tales’ read to children “…as a supernatural race existing in the fancy of the folk or North and West Europe.” (MacCulloch, 1912).

In the Late Middle English period the term faerie meant ‘enchanted’ or referred to enchanted creatures (Silver, 1999). In addition faerie implied the persistence of ancient religious beliefs replaced with the advent of Christianity (Yeats, 1988). In folklore faeries were believed to be a hidden remnant of a once conquered people with their contemporary image and origin enshrined and perpetuated by Victorian romantic literature and nursery stories.

Common literary impressions of fairy activity in their moonlight revelries, and of fairies of the household, the streams and woodlands. For some fairies are intimately connected with or originate with, the ancestral spirits coupled with the belief that the human soul was a mannikin. In some aspects the fairy in English lore was deemed a foreigner from France or Italy. For example the ambiguous position of Morgan Le Fee who “…was once Morgan the sea goddess, later euhemerised as a mortal queen with magical powers.” (Briggs, 1957), who was the controlling force over fairies because the predecessor to magicians and witches.


The Fairy Tree. Richard Doyle.


The term ‘fairy’ originates with the Middle English word faerie, as well as fairie, fayerye and feirie, which were borrowed directly from the Old French faerie. In Middle English the word meant either enchantment, the land of enchantment, or the collective noun for those who dwelt in fairyland. In etymological terms ‘fairy’ is rooted in the word fay or fae from faery or faerie meaning ‘realm of the fays’. In modern English usage faerie became fairy and faie became fay which refers to a ‘fairy’. In other words the suffix ‘erie’ was attached the word ‘faie’ to mean a place or something found. For the Scots fey derived from fae became ‘faerie’ or ‘fearie’ meaning illusion or enchantment. The appellation erie eventually came to define a trade, craft, or place such as midwifery, fishery, cookery, thievery, and nunnery, and thence to wizardry, witchery, roguery and knavery.

In ethnological terms the exotic word pirie or peerie “…consequently Peri becomes in the mouth of an Arab Feti” (Edwards, 1974), which migrated to England via France to become ‘fairy’. In ancient Egyptian myth fairies paralleled the Seven Hathors or patronesses of childbirth, those regarded as ‘fairy godmothers’ (MacCulloch, 1911). The word feerie or fay-erie in modern French means land, realm, enchantment, or where the enchantment took place. The land of enchantment or fairyland is where dwell the fays or fee of medieval France. The faie or fee found in Old French originate with the fata of Late Latin meaning one of the fates or tutelary and guardian spirits.

DACS; (c) DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

DACS; (c) DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Riders of the Sidhe (1911). John Duncan.

Moreover, the verb fari ‘to speak’ implies ‘thing spoken’ or ‘decree’ and therefore a prediction, a prophecy linked to destiny or fate. In Scotland the spae-woman was concerned with childbirth and omens. In other European tongues there are imaginary beings such as the fata of Italy, the fada of Portugal, the Provencal fada, the hada of Spain, and thence the fee of France (MacCulloch, 1912). In the Romance languages fata is a feminine noun which in the plural gives fatum or the ‘Fates’, making fays a late derivation from fatum. However, in the Romance languages entities called fays, fees, or fairies are not restricted to western European cultures. Such creatures as elves are from the word alfr and Anglo-Saxon aelf or alp which means genius, as well as the Scandinavian Norns and Vilas of the Slavs.

From Late Latin came fata rooted in fatum, and derived from fatare or feer meaning either ‘to enchant’, the ‘thing enchanted’, as well as trickery and illusions perpetrated by fays upon human perception. These deceptions and magical sleights ensured “…ugly crones are beautiful women or vice versa, fairy gold turns to dead leaves.” (Edwards, 1974). Hence fatare of Medieval Latin meaning ‘to enchant’ later exemplified an les dames faes or the ‘enchanted fairies of France’. Individually named fairies in tradition, myth and folklore include Abonde, Morgan le Fay, Avril and Viviane, together with banshees haunting woodlands and hills, and the fairy love of revelry that “…connects them with divinations in whose cult these were common, while the fairy moonlight dances may be a reminiscence of the cult itself…” (MacCulloch, 1911), echoing the sabbat of witches.

In classical mythology the Roman Parcae, or birth goddesses, were fata or fees. They were Nymphs and Fates known in Europe as descendants of the Germanic and Celtic Matres and Matronae. Also called eventually the ‘white women’ or the Bonnes Dames, Dames Blanches and Esterelle. Elsewhere these were the Be Find, Bonne Pucelles, and from the Latin the Pucellae and Bona Parcae. These matronae and others were originally trinities of goddesses concerned with springs, rivers, child-bearing and fertility (MacCulloch, 1911), the Parcae equivalent to the Roman Morai or Furies.


Titania and Bottom (1790). Henri Fuseli.


In the lore of fairies, and also in fairy stories, these spectral creatures were often viewed as possessed “…of a nature between spirits and men…” (MacCulloch, 1912). In general fairies had either a human-like appearance or were spirit-like creatures with a corporate semblance. In some shape or other fairy beings are a world-wide phenomenon who, wherever they occur, have some generalised characteristics in common. In many respects fairy beings resemble human beings. Euphemistically ‘faeries’ have been called the ‘wee folk’, the ‘good folk’, the ‘fair folk’, and in Welsh tradition the tylwyth teg (Briggs, 1976 a; 1976 b). Fairies can be solitary, such as the tomte in Sweden, or gregarious but usually “…not strongly individualised, and few of the Celtic fairies have personal names.” (Sayce, 1934).

Fairies have occupations and amusements, they have offspring and have fights (MacCulloch, 1912), and in folklore and fairy tales they share many commonalities in their relations to mortals, which fall into six categories. Firstly: (1) fairies help human beings; (2) fairies can also harm humans; (3) humans can be abducted by fairies for their own purposes; (4) fairies can exchange their own offspring for human babies and thus the belief in the ‘changeling’; (5) humans can be induced to visit fairyland and; (6) mortals can for a while have a fairy lover or mistress. Indeed, there is much in folklore that is concerned with protection against fairy malevolence, crediting these creatures with powers beyond that or mere mortals, and that resemble witchcraft, wizardry and practices of medicine men (MacCulloch, 1912). All occupations found in primitive communities were followed by fairies that included hunting, dancing, herding and farming, as well as being skilled smiths, shoemakers, weavers and spinners (Briggs, 1957).

One fear of fairy retribution is the abduction of women and children. This reflects a dependency on humans whereby young women and expectant mothers are stolen in order to nurse fairy offspring, and the fairy compulsion for human women to assist as midwives and suckling nurses (Rhys, 1901), or seduce mortal men and women. A stolen baby is replaced with a misshapen fairy baby, known in Ireland as the changeling. The changeling was a replacement for an abducted human baby. Old human females were also kidnapped and made to live as slaves in fairyland. The same could happen with the abduction of human midwives.


The Fairy teller’s Master (1855-64). Richard Dadd.

The popular conception of a fairy is that of a very small diminutive, sometimes tiny, creature resembling a pygmy. They are often shown as angelic, young or childlike, who are sometimes winged human-like winged sylphs. However, they can also be depicted as short, wizened troll-like gnomic figures with red or green eyes, or as tall handsome beings. Fairies have therefore a variable size, which they can change or appear as birds and animals (Sayce, 1934). In appearance some accounts describe the fairy as having the stature of a year-old child who nonetheless resembles a bearded old man, which is rooted in beliefs in ancestral spririts. In appearance and disposition sometimes they are beautiful, sometimes they are hideous (Briggs, 1957), as shown by spriggans of Cornwall, or the Northumbrian duergans. It is often the case of the female beautiful fairy being contrasted with the ugly male fairy, as with the Irish merrows.


The Fairy Ring (1850). George Cruikshank.

In folklore fairies are described as humanoid with magical powers and the ability to shape-shift, with a propensity for malice and mischief whose origins are even demonic. It is also believed that fairies cannot tell lies. It is among the fairy lore of the Celtic peoples there occurs the widespread theme of a race of ‘little people’ who were driven underground by invading tribes.

In Scottish folklore the good fairies, the Seelie Court, are well disposed towards humans, whereas the ‘unseelie court’ or bad and malicious fairies work their evil against mortals because some fairies are noted for malice and mischief. Therefore fairies hostile to people are feared because they ruin or steal crops, drink or food, tools and grain, who milk cows and ride horses during the night, blow out candles and disrupt households. Their pranks can be a punishment for a perceived wrong. Fairy assistance to humans and mortals is well attested with regard to home, hearth and farm. Although in general terms fairies are helpful, they are also mischievous and harmful to people if so roused. In the household they will do chores such as floor sweeping, dish washing, and tending the fire.


A Fairy Tale (1895). Arthur Wardle.

The Seelie Court are the good fairies of the Scottish lowlands (McPherson, 1929) who however can be hostile to humans if displeased. The unfriendly fairies are the Unseelie Court who are malevolent and concentrate their activities on harassment, injury, terror and even extermination of mortals. The Useelie Host or the Host of the Unforgiven Dead are  the Sluagh of the Scottish Highlands (Wentz, 1988). The Sluagh are therefore the evil ones. They are numbered among the trooping fairies, along with the Devil, the Dandy Dogs and the Yeth Hounds. Also with other creatures of ill-omen who hunt in packs, such as the Gabriel Ratchetts and the Welsh Cwn Annwn. There are also individual malevolent fairies such as the Duergar of the north country as well as the Black Dwarfs of English folklore, Germany and Scandinavia (Heslop, 1892). Similar to the Durgar are the Border Redcaps as well as the Dunters and Powries who are less murderous than the Redcaps.

Fairies are attributed with ability to become invisible at their own choosing, and affected by donning a magic cap, cloak or using certain herbs, and thus they can “…disappear, change their shape, and appear as human beings…” (Sayce, 1934). This fairy characteristic is bestowed by their power of glamour, shape-shifting and casting illusions.” (Briggs, 1957). The word ‘glamour’ was a Scottish term introduced into English literature that means magical, fantastic with the ability to juggle with the sight (Edwards, 1974). In other words glamour Is a magical charm cast by devils, wizards, a coup d’oiel in order to deceive the eye of the receiver. Indeed, humans have to be especially careful in their dealings with the fairies.


A portrait of a fairy (1869). Sophie G. Anderson

These diminutive beings are also deemed extremely long-lived if not immortal, as well as being “…dangerously amorous and have a tricksy love of practical jokes.” (Briggs, 1957). Their domain is regarded as being underground, a subterranean abode in tumuli, barrows, under hills or even beneath rocks and stones, and as ghosts “…haunt waste places, caves, rocks, ruins, and waterfalls, to have homes beneath lakes and to be associated with uncanny objects such as snakes, will-o-the-wisps, megalithic monuments…” (Sayce, 1934).


Puck and the Fairies (1850). J. N. Paton.

Fairies are often solitary spirits dressed in brown or grey compared to the popular conception of green apparel, skin and hair. Germanic dwarfs are commonly depicted wearing grey clothing. However, their clothing is quite varied though white is also popularly associated with fairies. Common also are red caps whilst hobs and brownies often clothed in rags.

Fairies, however, rarely harm mortal humans which includes those they abduct or lure to fairyland. Nonetheless a mistreated fairy is not incapable of retaliation by spoiling crops and setting fire to a household. The relationships between faerie and mortals can be further appreciated by the stories about fairy and mistress lovers which in literary terms often possess a drama and poesy. Such fairy stories have an established pattern of four main strands of: (1) a human loves a supernatural; (2) the spirit or fairy consents to the human dependent upon certain conditions and provisos; (3) the human eventually breaks the agreed taboo and loses his fairy lover, finally; (4) the lover attempts to retrieve or recapture the loved one, sometimes being successful. A similar set of conditions apply to fairy tales about fairy mistresses. A complication arising out of such an arrangement of a human-fairy marriage time that has lapsed. The sad result is that both time and age rapidly cat or liaison is the wish to catch up with the human lover.


Lily Fairy (1888). Luis Ricardo Falero.

All fairies are ascribed as being intensely enamoured of dancing, music, singing, feasting and revelry, that may persist as “…actual rites of orgiastic character…” (MacCulloch, 1912), and so have their origin in rustic festivals and agricultural magical practices.

An aspect of moral disposition of fairies is their being arrant thieves. Even good fairies purloin the property of mortals. Nonetheless they are also lovers of kindness, virtue, chastity, and cleanliness (Briggs, 1957). They take pleasure in playing tricks on humans such as taking food, spoiling the milk of cows, and minor mayhem if vexed. In other words they need to be placated if in a dangerous mood.

Fairies often help humans, distribute money and food to the needy, work counter-spells against witchery, and in the true spirit of the house fairy they will accept small rewards for their services (MacCulloch, 1912). Fairies also abhor greed and in medical matters are often resorted to by humans (Briggs, 1957), even though themselves they are dependent on human aid.

Folklore beliefs across the world attribute fairies to the detritus of ancient animistic beliefs. A spirit is regarded as a property of an inanimate object and archaic mythic figures are transmuted into fairy personages in later belief so “…fairy-lore must have developed as the result of modifications and accretions received in different countries and at many periods…” (Sayce, 1934). This links belief in fairies to the ancestral spirits of clan members. Ancestral spirits explains the beliefs in fairy subterranean dwellings as the domain of the dead, as well as the “…little difference in attributes, characteristics, and actions between Celtic fairies and Teutonic or Scandinavian elves, dwarfs, and trolls…” (MacCulloch, 1912).


Fairies are known by different names in various parts of the world, and fairy beliefs are complex, of great variety and antiquity, type and origin (Briggs, 1957). Various fairy folk exist in English folklore (Yeats, 1892), as well as including the elves, the abarativa, the Scottish wild horses or each uisge, the English Black Dogs, and the Irish sidhe. The fairy types resemble creatures from other mythologies in having numerous definitions. On other occasions these ethereal entities or sprites are referred to as magical, as goblins or gnomes. Some fairies are connected to specific places or localities such as the buccas in mines, or the Salamander in fire. In classificatory terms fairies have been separated into two large groups: (1) the fairy ‘race’; and (2) the solitary fairies. The fairy ‘race’ or ‘nation’ are located in ‘fairyland’ as a structured society. Included are the Irish ‘side’ or ‘little people of the hills’ and the Germanic dwarfs. The solitary fairies were connected to occupations, localities, and even particular households that include the water sprites and undines, the shoemaker leprachauns.

Another classification divided fairies into three species (Edwards, 1974) which were: (1) a dwarfish subterranean imp with benevolent magical powers, with green hair and clothes; (2) the solitary fairies. The fairy ‘race’ or ‘nation’ are located in ‘fairyland’ as an organised society. Included are the Irish ‘side’ or ‘little people of the hills’ and the Germanic dwarfs. The solitary fairies were connected to occupations, localities, and even particular households, that include the water sprites and undines, the shoemaker leprechauns.


Prince Arthur and the Fairy Queen. J. H. Fuseli.

Another classification divided fairies into three species (Edwards, 1974), which were: (1) a dwarfish subterranean imp with benevolent magical powers, with green hair and clothes; (2) tiny mischievous but protective household sprites associated with the hearth, and; (3) small ageless and winged females dressed in diaphanous material who contributed benevolently to humans, and who lived in fairyland. Another classification divided the English fairies into five classes (Briggs, 1957). These were: (1) the homely and the heroic; (2) the small fairy families or solitary fairy; (3) the tutelary fairies; (4) the nature fairies, and lastly; (5) the supernatural hags, monsters and giants. A urther group included the Morgan Le Fee type of magician.


Water Lilies and Water Fairies. Richard Doyle.

Contemporary and modern definitions of fairies have been derived from the fee of France, meaning a being of supernatural powers possessed of the boon of divination and influence over human destiny (Edwards, 1974). These French enchantresses carried wands, as did the Fates carry staffs, it is noteworthy that fairy-godmothers also carried a wand, thus the “…fairy godmother of the sophisticated French tales…is probably descended from the Fate of whom Fata Morgana was one.” (Briggs, 1957). By the middle-ages, around 1300, the three species or ‘races’ were distinguished. Firstly, the small type. Secondly, the dwarfish and goblinesque brownie type. Thirdly the taller stately attired damsel fairy. In modern parlance all fairies are casually referred to as the ‘little people’, hence “…distinctions have been lost, all ‘little people’ are discriminately fairies, and the differences, even the old names, are in danger of being banished into the limbo of forgetfulness by the quite artificial fairy of juvenile literary commerce, with gauzy wings and shirts reminiscent of the ballet.” (Spence, 1948).


Titania (1866). N. J. Simmons.

The most common fairy tradition in English folklore is that of the homely Trooping Fairies, who have farming connections, are variable in stature and can be either helpful or mischievous. The aristocracy of fairyland are the Heroic Fairies who live like the medieval nobility with a court and a king and queen. Typically of human size they hunt, sing, dance and engage in stately processions and revelry. Those of the Tutelary Type are attached to a human family as helpful diviners or omen bearing sprites. In this group are included the household brownie and the clan banshee. Such beings of this type are often the delicate silkie or brownie in Northumberland, which can become a boggart (Briggs, 1957).

The solitary and small family bands are independent spirits who frequent or haunt particular locations. Examples include the Border country Habetrot or spring fairy, as well as Irish cluricans and leprechauns. The small fairy family type are those who obtain human midwives for their family offspring. Nature fairies are widespread with the most common in English fairy lore being the water-sprites and the mermaid. The Scots have legends and beliefs in the loch living kelpie as well as the


The Visit at Midnight (1832). E. T. Parris.

Seas coast Nuckleavee. In the Highlands wanders the wintry blue hag known as the Cailleach Bheur, whilst in northern Britain there is Jenny Greenteeth who haunts stagnant pools (Briggs, 1957), in addition to the Scottish fruit protecting Churn-milk Peg and Awd goggie. Considered also is the guardian of wild animals known as the Brown Man of the Muirs.


Elves and the Shoemaker. By Folkard.

Another group, sometimes locally called ‘frittenings’ are the monsters, giants and devils who also include the supernatural hags who are less spiritual than the fairy demons. Such type of creature, boggart or hobgoblin are called according to locally braches, Padfoots, barguests, and brags. Quite often they adopt the form of an animal though they do not possess the ability to shape-shift.


Tuatha de Danaan.


In terms of origin fairies are a conflation of many strands and elements of folk beliefs, speculations about natural or hidden species, descendants of former subjugated populations, ancestral spitits and ghost, or fairy tales, myths and legends, literary compilations, as well as fallen angels and demonic creatures. In other words there is in fairy lore no single origin.


In Fairyland. Richard Doyle.

A number of theories have been postulated to explain the origin of fairies. Four main theories account for the origin of the belief. The concept may have developed from: (1) folk memories of earlier peoples conquered by the present inhabitants, hidden or lurking remnants, of previous populations lingering in caves or mountain recesses. Defeated or replaced peoples who prey on the occupiers in night-time raids and hence their supernatural reputations; then (2) degenerated deities of heroes whose stature has been reduced in importance. The allies of this group are the nature spirits; the (3) personifications of nature spirits originating in animistic beliefs of archaic peoples. The tree spirits and spiritually endowed inanimate objects. Such entities are anthropomorphised water spirits, undines, dryads, hill spirits, and the sidhe of Ireland. An example Queen Medb is the ‘queen of fairyland’ and euhemerised in the Irish epics. In group (4) are the ancestral spirits of the dead or the dead themselves who provide a strong and “…close association between fairies and the devil.” (Briggs, 1957), in the sense that fairies live below ground in tumuli and barrows as revenants, making fairyland a realm of the dead.

This explains the popular allusions to the link between devilish traits of horns, cloven hoofs and shaggy hides and images of nature spirits and folk gods. The association between demons and fairies may also originate with the peris or pieris of Persia whose not so wholesome activities were belied by their enchanting appearance, hence early beliefs in “…malevolent female demons…employed by the ruler of darkness to bring disaster to mankind, send comments and eclipses, prevent rain, cause failure of crops and spread famine and disease.” (Edwards, 1974).

The tradition of fairy superstition has no single origin, a number of causes being credited with causality, that include trance, dream states and psychic experiences. The persistence of the belief in fairies has been traced to “…animistic beliefs modified and altered in different ways by traditions about other races, by beliefs in ghosts, and in the debris of older myths and religions.” (MacCulloch, 1912). In England there survives little belief with the remnants consisting of mythological tales, heroic legends, fairy tales and ancestral echoes (Sayce, 1934). The existences accredited to fairies are contradictory. Some ascribe their living underwater, others to a subterranean existence, or in sacred groves. Wherever they occur fairies are mythical beings, the “…creations of fancy utilising existing beliefs, traditions, customs and experiences.” (MacCulloch, 1911).


The Quarrel of Titania and Oberon (1898). N. Paton.

There is an ancient and universal belief in the existence of an underworld principle. Howver, opinions as to its origin differ. Various explanations exist in folklore to explain fairies as the residue of doomed and rebellious angels. There is the fantastic association of fairies with cave dwelling spirits, and that “…fairy lore may therefore contain remnants of old mythologies…” (Sayce, 1934). The idea of the doomed insurrectionary angel is found in Celtic belief (Sikes, 1880; Keightley, 1900; Wentz, 1911). In Irish mythological tales fairies are referred to as the Tuatha de Danaan. Their origin is assumed to be derived from ancient goddesses, priestesses, nature spirits, nymphs, druidesses, the Fates (MacCulloch, 1911) making the fairies and the Tuatha the descendants of primordial gods and goddesses.


The Visit at Midnight (1832). E. T. Parris.

The idea that fairies are the result of a degradation process from ancient deities is not uncommon (Sayce, 1934). This is exemplified by the occurrence in goddess origin belief in fairy origin by the specific individuality of these spirits, even their names (Hartland, 1891). The concept of the fairy world is one that parallels the human that “…in many parts of the world centred about spiritual beings that bear many resemblances to our fairies.” (Sayce, 1934). In other words the otherworld social conditions are a reflection of our own. An example can be found in the Irish mythological cycle. The core of the myth is that the Tuatha de Danaan descended from the sky or, more likely, the northern islands. These Tuatha, the people of the goddess Danu, were defeated by otherworldly beings in battles, with further defeats by the ancestors of the modern Irish. The Tuatha forced to retreat, took to the ‘fairy mounds’, the ‘sidhe’, where they survived as ‘little people’, the fairies. In this underground haven or ‘world of spirits’, these people of the mounds or sidhe, existed in a land where everything was reversed, day was night, night was day, left was right and vice versa.

Fairies, as supernatural creatures were assumed to live in habitations underground, within the pleasant hills, called sidh or sith by the early Irish. The divine sidhe called the dinna-shee means “…people of the fairy mansions.” (Joyce, 1871) . Knowledge of these fairies known as the Tuatha de Danaan is very scant as are their chiefs called the Dagda and Bove Derg. The term originally applied to a fairy fort, mound or palace was sidh, and which over time came to mean a hill. During the passage of that  time the word sidh came to be applied to the fairies themselves – fairy being sidheog pronounced sheeoge.

In the folklore of southern and eastern England faeries became known as frairies, feriers, ferishers, or as farises and even Pharisees. The word originated from the fear sidhean or ‘fair-sheen’ of Irish Gaelic. This shows a connection with the sidhe of the Celts (Edwards, 1974). In Ireland the Daione sidhe were not necessarily diminutive. In the Scandinavian Edda the ‘light elves’ lived in the realm of Alfheim, who were separate from the subterranean ‘dark elves’ or Dockalfar, who in turn were divided from the dwarf Dvergar. One fairy type, which was derived from, or even part of the household or ancestral spirits, was the brownie or house fairy. Brownies, in common with leprechauns, did not live in communities but often separate from the ‘trooping’ bands, who were the Sid in Celtic tales. The heroic fairies dwelt in splendour and luxury with names like the ‘fair folk’, the ‘still folk’ with a king and queen (MacCulloch, 1912), and whose names included Aine, Fionnbher, and Aoibhinn. In Old English ‘Fairy Farm’ or ‘Fairy Hall’ was from the word meaning enclosure, in other words haeg for feargh or pig sty. In English folklore the term faeger meant fair and eager or eye thus an allusion to beautiful eyes.


Under the Dock Leaves. R. Doyle.

Individual fairy names included Miala, Cliodna. Gwion, Huldra, Oberon or Alberon (MacCulloch, 1912). The Welsh fairies were known as the ‘Fair Family’ or Tywyth Teg who were smaller in size than humans. The image of these diminutive creatures was the beautiful appearance, golden hairs, benevolence and white apparel. This contrasts with the industrial and metal smith dwarfs called in Europe the nains, cluricauns, zvorge, draws dvergar, and the bergmanntein. Such etymology during the medieval period existed beside the fact that “…most Englishmen could not even read English and Latin was worse than double-Dutch, all learning was a mystery to them.” (Edwards, 1974).

Earlier Divinities and Populations

Some elements of folklore have great antiquity and these contributions from all historical periods. It is already established that no particular source can explain the origin of belief in fairies.. It is known there was a regular antagonism between the role of the church and the fairy belief. The pre-Christian origin of fairy lore is shown by the great antiquity and distribution of fairy tales (Sayce, 1934). There are many archaic concepts associated with the lore of fairies which include shape-changing and extra-corporeal spirits. A parallel instance can be seen with witches and fairies. The connection between fairies and witches is a close one including the belief in “…bodily or spirit transportation though their air on the part of or by witches or fairies…” (MacCulloch, 1912). The belief in Gyre Carline is a Scottish fairy tradition of the elf-queen as the mother witch.


The Fairy Queen. J. N. Paton.

Fairies, as demoted or denigrated pagan deities may have been worshipped as minor goddesses, nature and tree spirits, as well as nymphs. For example water fairies may be remnant water spirits who, like the Scandinavian ‘elves’ and English ‘pixies’ are the “…trace of the ancient cosmology which divided the universe into various orders of being, gods, men and elves, dwarfs’ giants and monsters.” (Briggs, 1957). After the development of Christianity such beings survived, in a reduced state in the folklore beliefs and fairy tales, condemned as evil beings by the church. For some scholars many fairy stories were about real but euhemerised individuals or peoples (MacCulloch, 1912). The Victorians explained ancient gods and goddesses as metaphors for natural events accepted as literal happenings. Many references to fairies describe them as personifications of nature and abstract god-like notions. Therefore there was, in ancient Europe, an animistic religious belief coupled with memories of subjugated earth and mound dwellers.

If fairy belief suggests an archaic connection with real people, clans or cults, this “…probably goes back to the hostile relations which may have existed between Palaeolithic and Neolithic folk (MacCulloch, 1912). The widespread and one-time belief in the ‘little people’ has its origin in the pre-animistic and primordial communistic ideas, and are the true historical basis of belief in fairies. This is borne out by the folkloristic concept that fairies disliked the imposed civilisation on their aboriginal culture.



Ancestral spirits are generally believed to be. Not only still members of the clan, but also to keep their human characters. These ghosts in the fullness of time were transmuted from folk memory into other forms. Fairies may have originated as the ancestral spirits or ‘ghosts’ of prehistoric clans “…transformed in popular fancy into actual supernatural people dwelling underground.” (Allen, 1891). If fairies are the ‘ghosts’ of earlier populations then the basis of fairy-lore consists of tales handed down of contacts with previous peoples. These peoples could either have been earlier inhabitants or immigrants. In time such peoples would have become mythical beings, no longer ghosts, no longer memories, but fairies. The remnants of actual historical populations.

For example the incoming metal equipped Celts would have conquered the stone weapon using people. The Neolithic people would have been hostile to their Celtic conquerors. In this scenario the defeated aboriginal population would have come to be seen as an underground living people, thus “…the inhabitants of the Neolithic tumuli grew to be regarded as a very tiny set of spirits…” (Allen, 1891). To the mind and thought of prehistoric people “…the distinction between living people and the ancestral spirits may not be so sharp as it is with us.” (Sayce, 1934). The folk memory of a pre-existing prehistoric people. Mistakenly believed to live in mounds and barrows, were transmuted into fairies. Therefore the possibility that such remote figures in time no longer seen as ghosts but as fairies.

Traditions, myths and legends about diminutive or pygmy populations exist in every myth and folktale, hence myths refer to “…former inhabitants of the country transmuted into mythical beings.” (MacCulloch, 1932). One theory is that fairies are a lurking remnant of primitive tribes and clans. In other words the “…small fairies derive from the memory of a conquered race of pygmy people…” (Briggs, 1957), and that the fairy superstition originated with the relationships between a dispossessed smaller population and taller conquerors. The implication is that fairies were once actual people. Therefore the question arises were fairies and earlier race of people?



Morgan Le Fay (1864). F. Sandys.

It is established that the fairy superstition is widespread. Theoretically it may be that the origins of fairies are to be found with prehistoric peoples forced out my invasions and immigrants. The incoming invaders would have their own beliefs who would have possibly been welcomed by some of the existing people. In other words some ancient animistic beliefs would have survived if the invaders did not exterminate the original population (Sayce, 1934) but placated the encumbent ancient spirits as a policy. Many ancient pagan rituals and sites were Christianised on this basis.

Among the Celtic nations there exists a common theme of a ‘hidden people’, a race of diminutive people driven into hiding by invaders (Silver, 1999). There are many tales of migrating dwarfs and elfin creatures due to incursions of others (MacCulloch, 1932). The dispossessed disliked the human invasion which prompted retaliatory raids and revenge attacks, as well as unseen and nightly incursions There arose stories of theft, borrowing, kidnapping, and other sinister happenings that “…reflect incidents in the contact of conquered and conquering races.” (McCulloch, 1932). The resistance came to be regarded as a nation of spirits living in an underground otherworld of burial mounds or somewhere across the sea (Silver, 1999). Much of the lore of fairies and fairyland is rooted in the belief that fairies lived in duns, stone circles inhabited by ‘little people’, the devil. Picts, and giants.



There is no evidence that tumuli were once the habitations of earlier populations. Neither is there for giant Cyclopes being the builders of ancient Mycenae. Some features ascribed to diminutive populations, which resemble those of fairies, do not apply to the Picts who were not a pygmy people. Indications are in fairy-lore, that the belief is the persistence of archaic cults rather than the survival of primitive peoples (Briggs, 1957). Is the belief in fairies derived from a belief in earlier divinities who themselves in origin were nature spirits who displayed fairy traits? For the ancient Brythons their later mystical divinities were once fairy beings, fairy kings and queens. Ancient divinities are still remembered in Italy who had fairy-like features exemplified by domestic Roman gods who resembled brownies.


Fairies on a shell. J. N. Paton.

Nature, Folklore and Fairy Tales

The supernatural being called a fairy is probably one of the most well known creatures in folklore and fairy tale. There are local and regional variations in folklore and “…stories of fairy-like creatures are to be found in nearly every part of the world…” (Sayce, 1934). There is evidence to suggest that the characteristics of dwarfish beings and fairies represent an earlier race of people. However, folklore is not a static subject set in stone. Such a simple and primitive belief in fairies can occur at different times and in different places. One theory claims that the origin of fairy lore is in fact animistic, and thus such ideas are “…the basis of the fairy creed, attached now to all kinds of supernaturals, now to traditions of actual men.” (MacCulloch, 1932).Within folkloric belief there is the phenomenon of associating the uncanny with the uncanny, the unusual with the unusual, and with beliefs about spirits and this “…general body of beliefs…tend to vary from one region to another, from one people to another.” (Sayce, 1934).

Modern perceptions of fairies as diminutive and fragile creatures is the responsibility of William Shakespeare and the Elizabethan poets. The play ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is a case in point which was richly illustrated by Victorian artists. For example fairies were referred to as ‘little atomies’, as ‘small grey-coated gnats, or coachmen’, as well as nymphidae, ‘flower fairies’ or coachmen, ‘fluttering sprites’ who swim in the air and ‘ride the whirls of dust.” (Edwards, 1974). The spirits of the air were called sylphs from the Greek word silphe meaning a caterpillar. It is also a reference to the Latin term of silvestris nympha or ‘nymph of the woods’.


Morgan Le Fay (1862). E. Burne Jones.

With regard to elementals it was believed that fairies were an intelligent species distinct from angels and humans (Silver, 1999) and that elementals were thought by alchemists to be gnomes and sylphs. The concept that fairies are a component of ancestor cults is common among folklorists. Therefore it is argued that fairies were once ancestral spirits because many beliefs and customs agree with the theory.

Ancient peoples held the belief that inanimate things, animals and plants had souls of their own. It is not really clear what the relationship was between these nature spirits and ancestral spirits. Therefore, if the belief in fairies developed from belief in nature spirits, then fairies may represent either these half forgotten nature or ancestral spirits, perhaps both (Sayce, 1934). The development of fairies from ancient concepts of nature spirits is an animistic belief. Animism saw spirits as the denizens of stones, wells, streams, trees and groves who were regarded in some quarters as ‘fair folks’ or – ‘guid neebors’.

Ancient peoples paid homage to these earth and nature spirits who “…tenanted the little green knolls, spirits that that were usually invisible to the mortal eye, but at times made themselves known in human forms.” (McPherson, 1929). There developed over time the belief that “…earlier gods, connected with agriculture and growth, have for centuries been regarded as fairies…” (MacCulloch, 1911), with the activities significant at Beltane or May Day, and Samhain or November-eve (Wright, 1861). Some fairies were not connected with archaic deities but seen as direct descendants of the nature spirits of wells, trees and rivers. The Celts of Gaul worshipped fairy entities as niskas and peisgi who developed into water entities known as nixes and piskies (MacCulloch, 1911), which was an integral component of the nature worship of Teutons and Celts. In Celtic and Teutonic folklore and


No Way Out. Milixa Moron.

myth, as well as the southern European and Slavic, there is an abundance of water-beings of a fairy-like nature. Mermaids and Sirens plus the Welsh fairy-brides haunt the waters who emerge from the waters to prey on mortal men. In addition to Celtic lake and river fairies known as Morgans there are the Russian Rusalkas. Some fairies are therefore believed to be water spirits who can also be carnivorous blood drinkers and murderous wreckers. In contrast other water spirits are unselfish towards humans exhibiting solicitous behaviour, caring for health and making friends. Examples are found with the highland water spirits. However the Fideal, who haunts Loch na Fideil at Gairloch, is a malicious sprite who lures men down into the water to drown them. In England the equivalent is Peg Powler of the Tees and Jenny Greenteeth who haunts the streams of Lancashire (Grice, F.  (1944).

The Celtic peisgi and the niskas have characteristics shared with Sirens as well as the northern Merrimanni, Wassermann, Nix, Nisse, Mummelchen and Stromkarl. Similar water fairies include the nymphs and naiads who adopt the form of cattle and horses. Again these are reminiscent of the water-horse or each-uisge, the kelpie and orfanc which are demonic types of archaic water-spirit in animal form. A further form of dwarfish being connected with the divine Norse Aesir in the Edda are the alfar. Though not water sprites these dark elves are allies and workers for the gods against their foes. These alfar themselves are possessed, like the fairies, of magical powers with the alfablot being the annual sacrifice to these beings.

Fairy tales tend to be narratively short about typical characters in folklore, including fairies, goblins, trolls, goblins, dwarfs. ogres and giants. The tales also include stories of gnomes and enchantments. Fairy tales, which however do not have to involve fairies, must be distinguished from other folklore stories such as moral tales, legends and fables about animals and beasts. Fairy tales can occur in both literary and oral form and whose history can be difficult to define. Legends as such tend to involve a belief in the truth of actual events. Perceived as narratives grounded in truth.

Fairy tales have been around for millennia having developed and evolved from ancient stories from  many cultures with many variations. Moreover, the oldest stories are for both adults and children. An example can be seen with Children’s and Household Tales by the brothers Grimm. Fairy tales have been classified by folklorists in a variety of ways but no definitive and established meaning has been achieved by separate schools of thought. The fairy tales comprise a separate genre with the wider body of folktales. The definition of the fairy tale is disputed with some tales regarded commonly as including fables about animals together with other folktales. Both fairy tales and folktales contain animals and elements of the fantastic and the magical.

Fairies, Ancestors and the Dead

In folklore there is a strong association of fairies with the realm of the dead. There are many resemblances between ghost lore and fairy lore, even though at first sight fairyland seems as “…far as possible from the shadowy and bloodless Realms of the Dead…” (Briggs, 1970). Fairyland and the realm of the dead exist side by side, both are inextricably connected, interwoven as two strands of belief in ghosts and fairies. The fairy belief has much in common with ghost beliefs though the belief in fairies is not merely a derivation of the other. The conceptions of Hades and fairyland are interwoven with the King of Fairyland and the King of Fairyland.

In Christianity fairies were deemed to be ‘fallen’ angels, a class of the demolished from heaven, with the angelic in heaven the demonic in hell, and fairies in between (Yeats, 1988). In other words fairies were demoted from heaven but were not evil enough to be sent down to hell. A popular belief amongst religious Puritans was that fairies were entirely demonic (Briggs, 1976). One theory concerning folkloric belief and the spirits of the dead was that they shared some points in common. One belief was that fairies, if they were not actually the dead, were some sub-class of ghosts, or dead spirits. In many cases ghosts and fairies are one and the same in popular belief. One folklorist theory of ghosts and fairies (Briggs, 1957) proposes: (1) a universal interweaving of fairy and ghost beliefs, which includes the revelries of fairies and ghosts, the dead in fairy mounds, with hobgoblins and Halloween described as ghostly apparitions; (2) fairies are dependent on humans; (3) fairies are often


Midsummer Night’s Dream. P. Gervais.

said to be diminutive; (4) there are taboos against eating fairy foods. It is also dangerous to eat in Hades because both ghosts and fairies are subterranean beings (Silver, 1999), with some tales and legends telling of the sidhe, the burial ground domain of fairies and ghosts. Once again it is apparent that fairies and ghosts share many features in common despite wide variations in powers, characteristics, temperament, origin and type. Another aspect to consider about fairy origins is that an instance where supernatural ghosts also represent the “…contrary change by which ancient gods and goddesses are turned into ghosts…” Briggs, 1957).

The connection between fairies and ghosts is seen in the recurrent motifs of dangerous seasons and times including the twilight hours, Halloween, the festivals of Beltane, Midsummer, Samhain, Wednesdays and Fridays. Fairies and ghosts in common are believed active at certain seasons, and during the hours of darkness. All ghosts, and supernatural entities are repelled by iron, and with witches running water is a barrier to them, and the “…widespread and ancient belief ghosts love dancing, a characteristic fairy trait.” (MacCulloch, 1932). Moreover, many manifestations of inexplicable supernatural phenomena, cults of the dead, including poltergeists are blamed on fairy of ghostly origin.

The hobgoblin was once believed to be a household and friendly spirit, but which however became a malevolent entity goblin. Many hobgoblins are described as ghost-like or demon-like ghosts. Also house-fairies, elfins, brownies, kobolds and domovoys are “…almost certainly a transformed ancestral spirit, helpful and kindly…” (MacCulloch, 1932) who are assumed closer allies of the dead than fairies. Witches were believed to have fairy familiars who were the spirits of men believed to have died either violently or during the dangerous twilight ‘witching hour’. The distinction between bad fairies and good fairies is reminiscent of the distinction made between black and white witches in the popular imagination because “…in primitive times all the dead were fairies, and that Christianity has removed most of them out of the fairy power.” (Briggs, 1970). In earlier times having supposed dealings with fairies was punishable as witchcraft.

Not only were fairies and ghosts assumed more demonic or dead than angelic, both were believed to be both beneficial and harmful to humans. Both had the reputation of kidnapping children, ghosts and changelings were ravenous entities. Likewise, both fairies and ghosts could be repulsed or protected


Goblin Market. Arthur Rackham.

Against using similar means. Ghosts and fairies “…as distinct groups in widespread tradition have yet curiously similar traits, and that there are similarly beliefs and customs regarding both.” (MacCulloch, 1932), is shown by a number of examples: (1) both are active at Halloween and May Day revelries; (2 both have offerings made to them; (3) both reserve the night for their dancing…in meadows; (4) both must, in common with vampires and witches, disappear at cock-crow or sun-rise; (5) fairies and ghosts have enchanted objects that mortal beings attempt to purloin or possess; (6) as do they share a dislike of un-cleanliness and untidiness.

In Irish tales fairies and the dead dance together on certain days, as well as being inhabitants of sepulchral mounds as fairy dead (Briggs, 1970). Indeed, the Irish banshee, or bean si and Scottish bean sidh means ‘woman of the fairy mound’ is sometimes thought to be a ghost (Brigggs, 1976).


Titania and Bottom. E. H. Landseer.

Nonetheless, the belief or concept “…that fairies or elves were small seems to have been brought to Britain by the Saxons.” (MacCulloch, 1932), not forgetting the hypothesis that the fairy-lore tradition of wearing green and white clothes are the colours of death (Briggs, 1970). In Ireland the term shiabhra is often used to denote a fairy, who  is not only a supernatural entity inhabiting the nocturnal world, but also ghosts and phamtoms (Joyce, 1871). In Ireland the hideous churchyard goblin is referred to as a dullaghan.

In Welsh lore the Ellyllon are at times believed to be the souls of deceased druids (Kieghtley, 1898; 1900), similarly the fairy ‘hosts’ or sluagh are believed to be the dead. In folklore the “…strongest and most explicit connection between the Fairies and the Dead in England is in Cornwall.” (Briggs, 1970), including the buccas of the Cornish mines, the Devon pigsies or pixies, as well as Peg O’Nell. Will’o’ the’ Wisps have been considered to be the ghosts of unrighteous men, a concept because the “…largest body of belief regards them dead, though generally as some special class of dead.” (Briggs, 1957). The ‘hunt’ of the Celtic areas is believed to be the ‘fairy ride’ or fairies hurtling across the sky. Even English fairy lore is far less well documented than that found in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.


With regard to the location of fairyland it is usually regarded a separate region, subterranean and variously situated. Even though it is commonly believed underground it is at times located on an invisible island, or even underwater (Briggs, 1957). In folk belief this underground fairy realm was thought to resemble a pre-Christian ‘otherworld’ or Hades. In other words, in folk tradition the dead were often part of the fairy realm. The concept of the ‘otherworld’ in Celtic mythology was associated with the ‘Isle of Apples’ otherwise called Avalon or Elysium. Fairyland therefore was a non-theological heaven that was an aspect, a correspondence to purgatory or Hades, a type of fourth dimensional netherworld.

image31 Midsummer Night’s Dream. Arthur Rackham.

Fairyland was thus a densely populated realm of the dead where in fact there was no illness, no ugliness, no aging, and no death. In fairyland, this land of the dead, where time was non-existent and characterised by lapses of a supernatural nature (MacCulloch, 1932). The ambience of this otherworld, this land of the fairies, was beautiful, pleasant and magical (Briggs, 1957). In terms of social organisation fairyland resembles feudal and medieval society ruled over by a king, whose queen usually dominated. The Fairy Queen or Queen of Elfin and her royal court, as part of the underworld were believed subject to the devil, where the king left management of the realm to the queen (MacPherson, 1929). Such social organisation suggests an echo of matriarchy. In Scotland witches were believed to be in league with the devil and the court of the Fairy Queen (Scott, 1802-1803; 1830). Fairies live like that of human mortals in fairy houses furnished with silver and gold. This contrasts with the individual or isolated fairies whose abodes were caves, wells, woodlands, bushes, mines, ruins, barns, stone circles and tumuli.


Puck and Fairies. J. N. Paton.

The entrance to fairyland was usually through a pit, pothole, cave, well, knoll, crevice, or hill top. The entrance allowed a living mortal to enter the ‘Otherworld’ or ‘Land of the Gods’ the access being known as the ‘Silver Bough’. The Irish Tuatha de Danaan supposedly lived in the sid or mounds and thus resembled underground people, troglodytes and Teutonic dwarfs (Kirk, 1893).

Fairies, as a species of beings, lived underground in their own dwellings or Elf-hills or Elf-hillocks, which were actually ancient burial mounds called by Elfin names, in the same way as flint arrow heads were called elf-bolts (Allen, 1881). In the lore of the ancient Celts the fairy folk, called the Aos Si, were immortal beings whose dwellings were prehistoric caves and barrows, as well as “…fairy greens, bright green circlets of grass, on which on moonlight nights, the fairies issuing from their subterranean abode, danced and made merry.” (MacPherson, 1929). The fairies were a merry throng who enjoyed immensely their gambols at the midnight hour, even though on occasions such pursuits were not all merriment, with supervening quarrels and sanguinary battles between fairy forts (Joyce, 1871).

The Irish Tuatha were associated with a number of realms of the underworld. Such supernatural places included Emain Ablach which meant ‘The Fortress of Apples’ or ‘The Land of Promise’, or ‘Isle of Women’. In addition Tir na nOg meant ‘Land of Hills’ and Mag Mell referred to ‘The Pleasant Plain’. In this realm the mythology of Irish fairies these superstitions “…no doubt existed long previously; and this mysterious race, having undergone a gradual deification, became confounded and identified with the original local gods…” (Joyce, 1871).

In another aspect Elfland was a counterpart to earth. In fairyland there were great feasts with rich repast. Much time was spent in dancing to music, with grand processions of white horses adorned with silver bells, and merry twilight hour revels around the entrance to their dwelling, the enchanted fairy ring (MacPherson, 1929).

The superstitions concerning the dead in Britanny are the same as those about fairies. Similarly the Breton tale of the fairy ‘washer at the ford’ has become a revenant (MacCulloch, 1912). In the Germanic folk tales, or marchen, fairies are also associated with tumuli or barrows and are known as ‘fairy hills’, ‘Elf Howes’ and ‘Alfenbergen’, the haunts of the interred (Dawkins, 1880). Again, an association of the dead with fairies in fairyland. In early and medieval Wales there existed the idea that the Faery King called Gwynn was associated with Elysium or Annwfn. In Highland and Irish folklore the ‘fairy washer’ was viewed as a ghost, a portent or harbinger, who warned against imminent death (MacCulloch, 1912). Again the Welsh aspect of hell and the ‘hunts’ for the wicked souls is called Annwfn. In fairyland, in the realm of the dead, time is a dream and passes imperceptibly (Hartland, 1891), with the food eating tabu based upon not consuming the ‘food of the dead’.


Morgan le Fay (1880). J. R. Spencer Stanhope.

There are many tales of the abduction of human beings by fairies, often of women to act as mortal midwives at the birth of fairy children. There are numerous analogous stories of an accidental visit, or by invitation, to fairyland. Abductees, especially children, are either lured, enchanted or seduced, in order to convey them to the realm of the fairies. Many stories relate of fairies searching for mortal women to nurse fairy children.

Lactating human mothers, who are always rewarded, or those with children, are taken because human milk is prized highly by fairies. The newborn human is especially at risk of fairy abduction. Fairy babies are substituted as a replacement which is then branded as a ‘changeling’. This belief in England appears to be a combination of Celtic ideas of the ‘people of the hills’ with the Germanic elf-dwarf concepts. Explanations vary but usually the fairy child returns to its own domain.


The Moth Fairy. Amelia J. Murray.

Finally, in connection with the fairy fear of iron, is the idea of a memory of Iron Age invaders. Similarly the assumed green apparel coupled with underground homes and ‘magical’ responses may well reflect an attempt at camouflage by the aboriginal, perhaps woodland or forest population. For the Victorians the Selkies were shape-shifting peoples of the seal, a belief attributed to memories of sealskin clad ancient maritime peoples. The folklore can be seen in relation to flint arrowheads called ‘elf-shot’. Elf-shot lore is possibly a relic or an echo of a time when flint using peoples lived in contact with metal-using people. Such a ‘memory’ may be a stone-age population transferred to fairies thus “…the raison d’etre of the elf-bolt is to be found in the fact that they, as well as many other spirits, used ‘invisible’ weapons to cause ‘stroke’.” (MacCulloch, 1932). The belief in fairies using ‘invisible’ weapons or using magic against animals and humans can also be related to elf-shot lore.


References and Sources Consulted

Allen. G. (1891). Who were the Fairies. Cornhill Magazine, XLIII.

Briggs, K. M. (1957). The English Fairies. Folklore. LXVIII. 31st March.

Briggs, K. M. (1970). Fairies and the Realms of the Dead. Folklore. 81 (2). Summer.

Briggs, K. M. (1976 a). The Fairies in English Tradition and Literature.

Briggs, K. M. (1976 b). An Encyclopaedia of Fairies. Pantheon Books, New York.

Campbell, J. G. (2005). The Gaelic Otherworld. In: Black (ed). Birkinn, Edinburgh.

Dawkins, W. B. (1880). Early Man In Britain. Macmillan, London.

Edwards, G. (1974). Hobgoblin and Sweet Puck. Geoffrey Bles. London.

Gaster, K. M.  (1887).  The Modern Origin of Fairy Tales.  The Folklore Journal.  5 (4).  339-51.

Gray, R.  (2009).  Fairy Tales have ancient origin.  Telegraph.  5.9.2009.

Grice, F.  (1944).  Folktales of the North Country.  London.

Hartland, E. S.  (1885).  The Forbidden Chamber.  The Folklore Journal.  3 (3).  193-242.

Hartland, S. (1891). The Science of Fairy Tales. W. Scott, London.Hastings, J. N. ed. (1908-1922).

Heslop, O.  (1892).  Northumberland Words.  London.

Joyce,  P. W.  (1871).  The Origin and History of the Names of Places.  Dublin.

Keightley, T. (1850; 1900). The Fairy Mythology. Bahn, H. G.

Kirk, R. (1893). The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fawns, and Fairies. London.

MacCulloch, 1911 The Religion of the ancient Celts. Clark, Edinburgh.

MacCulloch, 1912 Origin of the fairies.

McPherson, J. M. (1929). Primitive Beliefs in the North-East of Scotland. Longmans & Co, London.

Newall. V. J. ed. (1980). Folklore Studies in the Twentieth Century. Brewer, Rowman 7 littlefield.

Popp, V.  The Morphology of the Folktale.

Sayce,   (1934). The Origin and Development of the Belief in Fairies. Folklore.

Scott, Sir W. (1802-1803). Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. Vols 1-3.

Scott, Sir W. (1830). Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft. John Murray, London.

Sikes. (1880). British Goblins.

Silver, C. B. (1999). Strange Places and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Conciousness. Oxford..

Spence, L. (1945). British Fairy Origins. Watts & Co, London.

Stith, T. & Thompson, R. (1972).  Fairy Tale in: Standard Dictionary Of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend.  Funk & Wagnall.

Stith, T. & Thompson, R.  (1977).  The Folktale.

Wentz, W. Y. E. (1988). The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries. Colin Smythe, London.

Wright, T. (1861). Celts, Romans and Saxons.

Yeats, W. B. (1892). Irish Fairy and Folktales.

Yeats, W. B. (1896). Fairy and Folktales of the Irish Peasantry. New York.

Yeats, W. B. (1988). A Treasury of Irish Myth, Legend, and Folklore. Gramery.

June 3rd 2015.


Filed under Folklore

Neo-paganism, Wicca, and the Cult of the Goddess


The Wiccan festival circle

History of Wicca
The Practice and Belief of Wicca
Dianic Wicca and the Goddess
The Horned God
Celtic, Faery and Seax Wicca

References and sources consulted


Wicca is a nature-based neo-pagan religion about whose origin there is much debate.. There are a number of theories concerning the origin of Wicca (Purkiss, 2006, Gage, 2008). Wicca as a belief came to the attention of the public in the 1950’s. being popularised in 1954 by Gerald Gardner who referred to witchcraft as ‘the Wica’ (Gardner, 1954; 1959). The ‘Wica’ were the adherents to the tradition and craft rather than the religion itself. In theory witches and their craft were postulated to be the remnants of an ancient pre-Christian cult, with their god being the devil according to the Christian church (Murray, 1921; 1931). Etymologically the term Wiccamay derive from the Indo-European root weik referring to magic or religion. This term is related to the German wikk also meaning sorcery or magic.



Druid circle at Stonehenge

 The neo-pagan religion of Wicca involves elements of animism, meaning the doctrine that phenomena in nature are due to spirits. Wicca is thus an immanent religion meaning it dwells or abides within. In Wiccan belief the goddesses and gods are the personification of the life-force present in animals and the environment. These deities can manifest themselves as an aspect of fertility, the hunt, or the wilderness (Davy, 2006). Moreover, whereas most Wiccans are pagans it does not follow that all witches are Wiccans.

Wicca is a type of witchcraft that is derived from various magical and religious concepts. The umbrella of pagan belief and practice also encompasses a variety of faiths that may have no connection with witchcraft. Characteristic of Wicca is its moral and liberal code of ethics, its seasonal celebration of eight festivals or sabbats, and ritual use of magical practice. As a neo-pagan religion Wicca possesses its own distinct forms or ritual observances, as well as its religious and moral precepts. Wicca is also distinguished by its structural organisation, secrecy and its system of initiation of novitiates.



Four witch circle

 Gerald Gardner has been described as the ‘father of Wicca’ and it was he who adopted the thesis of Margaret Murray (1921; 1931) that witchcraft was a modern survival of an ancient Europe-wide religion. Gardner’s Wicca, whose books (1954; 1959) attracted a number of new initiates, was a mystery and initiatory belief or religion. Initially Wicca had resulted from the witchcraft lineages of Charles Cardell. By the 1960’s the only extant lineages were those of Gardner. This illustrates that witchcraft as a religion was essentially a post-second world war phenomenon.

Wiccans worshipped the Horned God in tandem with the traditional Triple Goddess. The idea of the great goddess mother was common in the romanticised literature of the Victorian and Edwardian era. The work of Margaret Murray posited not only the ancient practices of witchcraft, but also tried to reconstruct elements of that belief and practice. The Wicca of Gardner, gleaned from the original New Forest covens, functioned with initiatory mystery priesthoods. They worshipped the Horned God and the Triple Goddess, as an element of a wider pantheistic godhead, manifested as various polytheistic deities.

Therefore, Included in Wiccan popularity as a religion is a form of goddess-centred neo-pagan witchcraft. When the independent Dianic Witchcraft is included there becomes apparent the existence of an Eclectic Wicca.In addition, the theories of Margaret Murray included elements of ceremonial ritualised magic, the occult, Freemasonry, theosophy, as well as the influence upon the magic of Alistair Crowley and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and the writings about Aradia. As it is currently practised witchcraft reconstructs the fertility rituals of pagan systems and beliefs, despite the fact that it has “…no ancient history or mythology of its own…” (Guiley, 1992).


 Goddess moon symbol

History of Wicca

The origin of Wicca is surrounded by debate and uncertainty. The origin of the Wiccan traditions, known as British Traditional Wicca, were in the region of the New Forest. Gerald Gardner claims he was originally initiated by the witches in Dorset in 1939, therefore the New Forest Coven. Prominent later developments were to become known as Gardnerian Wicca and Alexandrian Wicca. Wicca is probably derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for witch. Its modern usage of ‘Wica’ are Gardner’s initiates who are a particular group, as well as unrelated witches. In the process Wicca became a general term for almost all neo-pagan witchcraft. The neo-pagan religion which emerged in the 1950’s in England may well be the only religion that England gave the world (Hutton, 1991).

Three witch groups can be described all of who, interpret the term Wicca differently. Firstly, those covens descended from the original New Forest groups, and who use the term Wicca in a self-descriptive sense. Secondly, the neo-pagan witches who use Wicca to define or describe the majority of pagan witches, and which implies ‘witch’ and ‘Wiccan’ are synonymous. Thirdly, some initiates describe themselves as witches but dismiss the label Wiccan.


Yule Ritual in the New Forest Coven.

 Can the origins of Wicca be traces to the historical 16th and 17th century witch cults and witch hunts? This phenomenon spread across Europe and the colonies in America. In France the church trials began in 1408, one of note being the trial and execution of Joan of Arc in 1431, and also Gilles de Rais and his coven in 1457. These ‘witches’ were charged with diabolism on the basis of a fundamentalist Christian doctrine that non-Christian entity was a devil. Other accusations included cannibalisation of children, devil worship, and desecrations. Modern scholarship explains the events in terms of witches being the victims of hysteria in rural communities.The hypothesis of the witch-cult regarded them as participants in a pan-European pagan religion. This religion predated and was persecuted by the Christian church as a rural religion. In the 1980’s and 1990’s the scholarly and academic view of the witch cults was their being creation myths rather than based on historical fact.

Gerald Gardner (1884-1964) was once a colonial civil servant as well as a scholar of magic. In 1939 he claimed to have met a coven of witches, or members of a witch-cult in the New Forest. The New



Gerald Gardner.

Forest Coven led to the creation of Gardner’s own Bricket Wood Coven in 1954. Gardner propagated his new religion, referring to the members of his craft, or mystery and neo-pagan cult as the ‘Wica’, never using the term Wicca. The ritual component of ‘Wica’ displays the obvious influence of the Late Victorian occultism.Gerald Gardner claimed his Wica was a direct descendant of a pre-Christian pagan religion with witch-cult origins (Gardner, 1954; 1959). Gardner’s Wica is identified amongst neo-pagans as being of the New Forest Tradition. The outlook of Gardner follows on from the researches of Margaret Murray in the 19th and 20th centuries (Murray, 1921; 1931).


 Margaret Murray

 Indeed, the Wica of Gardner is a synthesis of traditions from many cultures, including elements of English folklore, Hinduism, romanticised Native American beliefs, as well as ritual structures and terminology of Freemasonry. The materials assembled by Gardner are not cohesive, and resemble and eclectic patchwork, that incorporates ritual magic practices inspired by ancient paganism.


Gerald Gardner in his Museum of Witchcraft.

 Gardnerian Wicca has been popularised by other authors since the 1950’s (Valiente, 1973). Alexandrian Wicca or Algard Wicca is a derivative, in the 1960’s, of Gardner’s Wica. American offshoots include Central Valley Wicca and Blue Star Wicca which refer to their practices and beliefs as American British Traditional Wicca. Again, the duotheistic attachment to the two principal deities of the Horned God and the Mother Goddess. Alexandrian Wicca, after Alex Sanders in the 1960’s, was founded by him with the claim he was a hereditary witch. Sanders and his wife adopted the title and style of the king and queen of witches. They did in fact establish a large following. However, other initiates denounced them as charlatans and black magic practitioners.

The Practice and Belief of Wicca

The theology of Wica is variable with most worshipping within a pantheistic framework of the veneration of the god and goddess. The polytheistic approach, which consists of many lesser deities, worships various gods and goddesses as distinct and separate entities. A form of polytheism is the duotheism of two polarised opposites, a dual pantheism of a god and a goddess. In addition there is a belief of a unitary godhead, where all gods are a one god and all goddesses are also one, therefore a supreme god and archetypal goddess. Hence the dual aspects of a single godhead.

The morality of Wicca rests upon the Wiccan Rede, with the Charge of the goddess the nearest comparison to a liturgy within the craft. The Rede is a declaration and a recognition of the freedom to act. In addition it is the acceptance of the responsibility for one’s actions. This brings into focus the Wiccan Law of Threefold Return. In essence, no matter what a person does, whether benevolent or malevolent, the result is the return to that person in triple force (Lembke, 2006). With regard to the Charge of the Goddess (Valiente, 2001) many Wiccans endeavour to cultivate the eight virtues of mirth and reverence, honour and humility, strength and beauty, power and compassion, as an order of complementary opposites.


The Charge of the Goddess and the Wiccan Rede.

 The Charge of the Goddess and the Wiccan Rede, together with the Book of Shadows, were the core Wiccan texts. The Book of Shadows was a seminal text, whose secrets were similar to a grimoire used by magicians (Davies, 2009). This reflects the common duality found in the Wiccan outlook. Apart from the Charge of the Goddess, as well as the ritual texts of Gerald Gardner and Alisteir Crowley, there was the Araidia material or the Gospel of the Witches (Leland, 1899). For Wiccans there is no definitive or set sacred text.


Aradia manuscript

 In Wicca there was an obligatory ceremonial initiation ceremony, or Rites of Passage, on joining a coven. In traditional British Wicca permitted at first acceptance at first in the First Degree. The covens were autonomous and initiated their own priestesses and priests.


Wiccan ritual in robes

The usual traditional number within a coven was thirteen. The stage of the Second Degree involved being awarded a craft name and proficiency in the use of implements. Finally, participation in the Great Rite was permitted an initiate of the Third Degree.



Wiccan ritual paraphernalia.

 The observed Wiccan religious holidays are based on traditional agrarian and seasonal festivals. The eight festivals, or sabbats, constitute the Wheel of the Year. There are four main sabbats and four inor ones (Guiley, 1992). The four Greater Sabbats coincide with the Celtic fire festivals and cross-quarter days. The major or greater sabbats are: Imbolc (Imbolg or Oimelc) on the 2nd of February; Beltane on April 3oth; Lughnasadh or Lammas on August 1st; and Samhain on October 31st. The four lesser sabbats are the solstices or equinoxes that mark the change of the seasons. Ostara is on March 21st, Midsummer is June 21st, Mabon is September the 21st and Yule occurs on December 21st. The names of these celebratory festivals are derived from Celtic polytheistic and Germanic pagan holidays.

Sequentially the eight Wiccan sabbats are: Samhain, the Greater Sabbat of the Dead; Yule, the lesser sabbat of the Winter Solstice; Imbolc, the Greater Sabbat; Ostara, the lesser sabbat of the Spring

Equinox; the Greater Sabbat of Beltane of May Eve; Midsummer or Litha, the lesser sabbat of the Summer Solstice; then Lughnasadh or Lammas, the Greater Sabbat of harvest; and finally the lesser sabbat of mabon, the Autumn Equinox. Imbolc was Christianised as Candlemas and Samhian is termed All Hallows Eve or Halloween.


Female wiccans in group

 Wicca perceives five symbolic and classical elements which are invoked during magical rituals. These five elements are the well known as air, fire, water, earth, as well as spirit or Aether, which unites the other four. Each element is associated with its own cardinal compass point. Spirit or aether is central to air as east, fire as south, water is west, and earth is north. The well known Wiccan symbol is the five pointed pentagram. Again, the pentagram symbolises the five classical Wiccan elements, earth, fire, water, air and spirit. The triquetra is the Wiccan triple moon symbol of the Triple Goddess.


Statue of the goddess

 Wiccans believe in magic that can be manipulated through the practice of witchcraft and sorcery. In their rituals they practice magic through the casting of spells, and their festival celebrations. The casting of spells, and the art of magic, is the goddess in magic where witches look to her for blessing and power. Common Wiccan spells are used for healing, love, fertility and to counter negative influences (Gallagher, 2005).


 Neopagan ritual

 During their ritual ceremonies Wiccans cast spells, within a sacred circle, in order to bring about real changes. Wiccans believe they can derive magical powers from the goddess in her lunar aspect. This on the basis that magical power waxes and wanes in accordance with the phases of the moon. At each phase of the moon a relevant aspect of the Triple Goddess is involved, such as a love spell from Aphrodite, or a healing spell from Panacea.



 Skyclad in stone circle

The assembly of the coven within the purified and ritually cast magic circle, makes invocations to the guardians of the cardinal compass points. Within the magic circle there is usually an altar for the placement of necessary implements. A central witchcraft ritual is the Drawing Down of the Moon, where the High Priestess invokes the goddess to force into her so that she becomes a receptacle. In the purified circle may be placed a representation of the goddess or god (Guiley, 1992).

As well as prayers to the god or goddess, and spells, common implements will be the knife or athame, a pentacle, wand, chalice, a cauldron and candles, incense and a curved blade called a boline. For many Wiccans their craft is defined as a science for the control of secret natural forces. This is the definition of magical practice provided by the ceremonial magicians. For Wiccans magic is a law of nature that is misunderstood by science. The colour black, being associated with Satanism and evil describes black magic in contrast to white magic. A media sensationalised aspect of Wiccan ritual is the practice of Skyclador working naked, usually for initiates, but Wiccans may wear robes.


 Skyclad witches

Dianic Wicca and the Goddess

Dianic Wicca is also known as Dianic Witchcraft and Dianic Feminist Witchcraft (Buckland, 2005), that comprises three main branches.Dianic Neopaganism consists of Dianic Wicca, McFarland Dianic, and Feminist Dianic Witches, which is non-Wiccan. Synonymous with neo-paganism the Dianic Tradition is the beliefs, practices, practitioners, ahistory and earth religion of goddess worshippers who emphasise the feminine divine.



The symbol of the Triple Goddess



Sculpture of Diana and a stag.

 The Dianic Wicca is a feminist lineage created by the Hungarian-American Zsuzanna Budapest in the USA in the 1970’s. The denomination is noted for its feminism and focus on worship of the goddess. It combines features of Italian folk magic and Aradia with British Traditional Wicca. It normally practices folk magic and healing ways in women only covens (Buckland, 2005). The Tradition mixes feminist politics with Wiccan practices and, as it focuses exclusively on the goddess, has become known as Dianic Witchcraft or Dianic Wicca from 1971 until 1979. There is no connection with Gardnerian or Alexandrian Wicca, or the traditional British lineage. The eclectic movement of Dianic Wicca or feminist Dianic Witchcraft arose out of feminist developments of the 1960’s and 1970’s.


Zsuzanna Budapest.

The neo-pagan fairy lineage tradition is known as the McFarland Dianic, founded by Mark Roberts and Morgan McFarland, it accepts male initiates. The Femiist Dianic Witches, who are non-Wiccan, are a feminist spirituality group in New York. Inspired by Budapest they place their emphasis on a non-hierachical structure, with self-initiaion and womanism. Other Dianics perform latge group rituals, they cast spells on sabbats and full-moon esbats. There are therefore Dianic covens as well as solitary practitioners.In Califirnia the oldest American group of Wiccans is the Covenant of the Goddess. This is a religious organisation that has associates and solitary elders. As a cross-traditional organisation their covens practice and focus their worship and rituals on goddess and gods or goddess alone (Adler, 2006).

The Dianic Tradition is spiritual and believes that the goddess is the source of all that is living, and contains all within her. The denomination demands both responsibility and empowerment, that worships in female circles and covens, whilst celebrating diversity. However, the Dianic Tradition for some implies an everyday folk religion involving pursuits termed ‘hedge-witchery’ and ‘kitchen-witchery’. Some Dianic covens are in fact mixed gender, some are all heterosexual, others are all lesbian in orientation. The Dianic Tradition for others is a more forma; organisation with a defined cosmology and a developed witching practice.


Earth Mother

Mosst Dianics form covens, celebrate the Wiccan holidays, attend the eight festivals of Samhain, Beltane, Imbolc, Lammas, the solstices and full-moon rituals. The majority of Dianic Wiccas celebrate womens bodies, womens experiences and mysteries. The ianic Wiccans celebrate the divine feminine and worship the goddess as a whole unto herself, the essence of the biology and culture of womanhood. Dianic Wiccans observe and experience the pagan Wheel of the Year in terms of the coincidence of seasonal reality and the life cycles of women, where the Great Goddess can be both maiden, mother, queen, hag or crone.

Many Dianic Wiccans have discarded the hierarchical structure of the Garnerians. Some covens ignore the Horned God as well as pubkishing their rituals. The goddess orientation regards the Goddess as a pre-emeinence that conceives and contains everything. Their rituals contain provision for a non-specific self-intiation. Dianic Wicca reveres the Triple Goddess, commonly depicted as the Moon Goddess, as maiden, mother, and crone. Feminist Wicca has no need for god worship because the goddess is complete in herself, a reflection of ‘waman’s spirituality’ as every woman’s right.

For Gerald Gardner the Wiccan gods were the prehistoric deities, the Horned God and Mother Goddess, of the British Isles (Hutton, 1991). Wicca was traditionally duotheistic. An attempt at reconciliation between Dianics and Gardnerian monotheisms was attempted by Starhawk in The Spiral Dance, who founded the Reclaiming Tradition that mixed Wicca and other neo-pagabisms.

The Horned God

Wicca is a duotheistic religion worshipping both a god and a goddess, therefore Wiccans conceive of a gender polarised, male and female, universe. The Horned God and Triple Goddess are the equal and polar opposites in Wiccan theology. These polarities are not only complementary but are also the embodiment of the life force manifest in the natural world and environment. An embodiment associated with sexuality, hunting, nature, fertility and the female cycle (Farrar, 1989). However, the ideology of feminist Wicca places more emphasis on the Mother Goddess, where the symbolism of the horned god is much reduced.


 God and goddess as tree

 The traditional horned god, who symbolises the sun andwhere the goddess is the moon, is associated with the wilderness and hunting. The horned god is often shown with either horns or antlers on his head, and thus beast-headed or theriocephalic (d’Este, 2008), which figuratively represents the union of animal the divine, and the human. The horned god has various and several names and epithets including Cernunnos, Pan, Atho, Karnaya, sometimes he is traditionally known as an archetypal known European figure such as a Sun God. In European folklore he is variously known as the Green Man, the Oak King, and the Holly King. The term Horned God predates his use in Wicca.

The so-called horned god is an anthropomorphic syncretised deity in terms of being ‘horned’ or ‘antlered’, implying his origins are pseudohistorical. Depictions of the Horned God as a horned or antlered human originate in both European and sub-continental Indian sources, and range from the Palaeolithic in France to Dorset in England (Murray, 1931). In Europe there is traditional worship of the horned god, evidenced by an unbroken line, including a pan-continental witch cult that was demonised by the medieval Christian church (Murray, 1921).

The model of the horned god of folk tradition originates with Sir James Frazer and Jules Michelet, as a horned deity during the Palaeolithic times Hutton, 2006), based upon an interpretation of ‘The Sorcerer’ cave painting. In historical terms the horned god is not a fact but now regarded as a myth, a fantasy. The romanticised, popularised and contemporary image of the horned god is that of the classical god Pan or Faunus. The ancient Greek god Pan was generalised with hairy horns, the image of the hypothetical horned god of the witches. In addition the horned god of the witches was Baphomet the supposed idol of the Knights Templar.


Witch’s Sabbath (1789). Francisco Goya.

 Neo-pagans however react unfavourably to Lucifer being identified as the god of the witches. The romantic pagan tradition rejects the so-called relationship between Satanism and witchcraft. The image of the occultist Baphomet, originally a benevolent horned god of fertility, was transformed and demonised by the Christian church. One theory concerning the origins of witchcraft is that the belief and practice appeared in late antiquity as a worship of a horned god. Hence a faith rooted in the Graeco-Roman gods Pan and Faunus, from which developed the Celtic horned god Cernunnos.



Baphomet the Goat

The horned god of mainstream Wicca is the masculine aspect of the dual divinity, the equal opposite to the goddess. The horned god of Wicca has numerous forms and epithets including the Sun God, the Vegetation God, and the Sacrificed God (Farrar, 1989). Different Wiccan groups have different names for their horned god which are The Lord, the Old One, or Old Horny. Stewart Farrar was the High Priest of the Alexandrian Tradition who claimed that the Horned God as Karnayna was really a corruption of Cernunnos (Farrar, 2010). The term was apparently derived from the Arabic word Dhul-Qarnayanmeaning ‘Horned One’ (Hutton, 1995; Valiente, 2007).

For Gerald Gardner the horned god is a mediator, an undergod, the common masculine undergod, a not personal but an impersonal divinity. The concept of a mediator suggests an aspect of the shamanic. As the eldest of gods, the Sun God, the Green Man (Valiente, 2007) for Wiccans he is the Lord of Death who rules Summerland and the Underworld. Doreen Valiente, a Wiccan high priestess in the Gardnerian tradition, referred to Cernunnos asKernunnaor ‘the horned one’ as well as Janico


 Doreen Valiente

 of Basque origin. Janico was the Basque god of oak trees who was equated with the Roman god Janus. Cernunnos was the stag and fertility god of Gaul who was portrayed as a man with stags’ antlers, sometimes holding a ram-headed snake and torc.


  The Gundestrum Cauldron.

The continental name for the horned god of the Celtic polytheism was Cernunnos who was often portrayed as am antlered or horned figure. In the course of time he became merged with the Graeco-Roman deity of Pan or Faunus. Originally he was thought to have been the horned god kept alive by a stratum of European peoples, the “…descendants of the Palaeolithic, Neolithic, and bronze Age…” (Murray, 1931). In other words Cernunnos originated with a Palaeolithic prototype. However, nothing is known other than speculative interpretations that equate him as a god of nature and fertility (Green, 1992).


 Hail Karnayna. God of the Forest.

 EtymologicallyCarno-on-os is a proto-Celtic form, a theonym for a god shown with early growth stag’s antlers, holding torcs, as shown in the Gundestrum Cauldron. The actual etymology of the name Cernunnos is unknown. Wiccans and other neo-pagans revere a horned god, a divinity worshipped in a number of cultures. Cernunnos, as the horned god, is believed to reflect the annual seasonal cycle of life, death and rebirth (Farrar, 1992).

The Gardnerian tradition of the theory of the horned god created the myth of the historical origins of the Wiccan religion. This explains the lack of evidence for the Wiccan faith earlier than the twentieth century (Hutton, 1995). Wiccan pioneers, such as Gardner and Valiente, claimed that the Wiccan religion was the continuation of pagan religion of the witch-cult postulated by Murray and Michelet (Farrar, 1989). The theory of Margaret Murray that various horned gods and mother goddesses were worshipped in the British Isles during medieval times has been rejected by modern scholarship (Hutton, 1991). The horned god in Wiccan belief personifies the energy and life force of animals and the wild (Davy, 2006) whereas Valiente believes that the horned god transports the souls of the dead to the underworld (Greenwood, 2005).

Wiccans celebrate eight seasonal cycles in conjunction with the worship of the Horned God and the Triple Goddess. The eight sabbats of the Wheel of the Year are the phases of the god and goddess cycle. Born in winter the horned god, the Lord of Death, (Greenwood, 2005) impregnates the Mother Goddess and then dies in the autumn and winter to be born again at Yule (Farrar, 1992). This explains the two-seasonal aspects of the god as the Oak King and the Holly King (Salmonson, 2001). The Wiccan seasonal festivals mirror the relationship between the goddess and the horned god (Davy, 2006). Symbolically the death of the Horned God occurs on August the 1st or at Lugnasadh or Lammas. This is the first harvest sabbat. The Horned God also dies at the autumn equinox or Mabon. This god also dies at Samhain, a death focussed ritual, on October 31st. He is then reborn at the winter solstice on December 31st.

Celtic, Faery and Seax Wicca

Some components of Celtic mythology have been incorporated into the Wicca established by Gerald Gardner in the 1950’s (Raeburn, 2001; Hutton, 2001). Gerald Gardner did include a few elements of Celtic origin into his Wicca, but also facets of Hindu religion, Masonic traditions and rituals, as well as a romanticised Native American lore. Known as Celtic Wicca, and even though it contains Celtic influences and borrowings from Celtic sources, it is not Celtic in nature.



Modern Celtic Wiccan Tree of Life

 The emphasis in Celtic Wicca is the elaboration of elements of Gardnerian Wicca that are assumed Celtic in provenance. In the process there is a firm distinction to be made between modern Wiccan practice and historical Celtic inspiration, but Celtic Wicca blends both into a “…living path of ethical and spiritual growth.” (Raeburn, 2001). Celtic Wicca is a syncretisation of elements of ancient Celtic mythology with facets of the ‘Celtic Revival’, and in this respect is ahistorical. Celtic Wiccans worship some of the gods and goddesses of the Celtic pantheon, but not within a Celtic structure, but a Wiccan one. In this respect Celtic Wicca is a form of Celtic neo-paganism (Hutton, 2001; Raeburn, 2001).

The Celtic Wiccan spirituality attempts to blend Celtic wisdom with religious witchcraft. The denomination of Witta, which is a particular branch of Celtic Wicca, lays claim to being historically accurate. As part of mainstream Celtic Wicca it is of modern origin. Moreover, there are numerous eclectic groups of Wicca who include Celtic features which identify them as branches of neo-paganism (Conway, 1995). Several variations of Celtic Wicca exist. One such variant is American Celtic Wicca (Lady Sheba, 1971; 1972), as well as the Church and School of Wicca founded by Gavin and Yvonne Frost in the Celtic Wicca tradition (Frost, 1972).

There is therefore a continuum from the eclectic to re-constructionist Celtic, which is as inaccurate in historical terms as most types of neo-druidism (Hutton, 1993). However, Celtic re-constructivism places emphasis on cultural Celtic forms and historical validity. A number of criticisms of Celtic Wicca have been made. Essentially Celtic Wicca is regarded as the misrepresentation and misappropriation of real Celtic history and traditions. In other words Celtic Wicca is seen as different from known Celtic practices and beliefs. A criticism of Celtic Wicca is that its sources are ancient mythology combined with romanticised revivalism instead of history.

Faery Wicca is the umbrella term that refers to any Wiccan tradition that emphasises the fairy or fae. The fae being the fairies, sprites, gnomes, and their lore relative to the modern or natural world. Faery Wicca is a particular Wiccan tradition or denomination founded by KismaStepanich which claims to recover the traditions of the Tuatha de Danaan of ancient Ireland, the mythic precursors of the Celtic or Irish peoples. The tradition of Faery Wicca which is strongly tied to nature, seasonal changes, and to the solar and lunar calendaric festivals. KismaStepanich relies heavily on her reinterpretation of Celtic legend, history, imagination and pseudo-history from a variety of non-Celtic sources. Her position is disputed by scholars and others well acquainted with ancient Celtic mythology and polytheism. In other words the inspiration of Faery Wicca, which is not related to the Feri Tradition of Victor Anderson, is from some customs of ancient Celtic practice. However, Faery Wicca has more in common with neo-Wiccan and modern Wiccan denominations and traditions, than with the so-called Fairy Faith of folklore.

In the 1970’s were found several Wiccan off-shoots in America. These were variations of Traditional Wicca based upon the Gardnerian and Alexandrian traditions. One of these off-shoots was Seax Wicca, otherwise known as Lyblac Anglo-Saxon Witchcraft. Seax Wicca was introduced into the USA by Raymond Buckland in 1973, having purchased Gardner’s Isle of Man Witch’s Mill. Buckland was a High Priest of Gardnerian Wicca, which he ceased to practice. North American Wicca is based on Traditional British Wicca.


Raymond Buckland

Seax Wicca –s a neo-pagan Wiccan tradition or denomination that was mainly inspired by the iconography of historical Anglo-Saxon paganism (Buckland, 1974), which used the structure of Gardnerian covens. The Seax Wicca tradition honours the god and goddess not as the Horned God and Mother Goddess but as the Germanic deities Woden and Freya. These two thus represent the Wiccan horned god and goddess. There was no oath of secrecy in Swax Wicca whose rites and rituals, including the significance of runes, were published by Raymond Buckland (1974). More or less unique among Wicca the belief allowed for self-initiation, all could therefore practice, and it had many covens.

The central myth of witchcraft is that of rebirth (Gardner, 1954) which was seen as ‘The Myth of the Goddess’ or the ‘Legend of the Descent of the Goddess into the Underworld’ (Farrar, 1984). There are many variations of the descent myth whichare echoed in ancient and classical mythology, including the dualities of Inanna and Dumuzi, Ishtar and Tammuz, and Demeter or Kore and Persephone. These myths of reincarnation, or of death and rebirth, are reflected in current Wiccan practice.

Beliefs concerning reincarnation vary among Wiccans, which is a traditional Wiccan teaching. Wiccan beliefs in reincarnation imply therefore an ability to contact deceased spirits. This belief is based upon the concept that the soul rests a while in so-called Summerland or the Otherworld. This transition or rite of passageis known as the ‘ecstasy of the goddess’. Moreover, a soul will reincarnate into its own species over a span of many years as it learns and advances (Buckland, 1986). In addition Wiccans believe that the reincarnated are previous witches. Nonetheless Wiccans do not emphasise an afterlife but focus on the present one thus “…the instinctual position of most pagan witches therefore seems to be that if one makes the most of the present life, in all respects, then the next life is more or less certainly going to benefit from the process, and so one may as well concentrate on the present.” (Hutton, 1999).


Neo-pagan ritual in moonlight

 Wicca, as an ancient witch-cult coupled with the idea of primitive matriarchal religion derived from Johann Jakob Bachofen, was popular with Margaret Murray, Marija Gimbutas, Robert Graves and the anthropologist Ashley Montagu. The theories about ancient matriarchies are the work of Gimbutas, derived from the matriarchal interpretation of archaeology.

For Wiccans the goddess was perceived in the form of maiden, mother and crone, as the Triple Goddess, these three aspects of womanhood were reflected in the three phases of the moon (Guiley, 1992). With the Dianic Witches and the legend of Aradia it was the goddess Diana who sent Aradia down to earth. Her purpose was to instruct witches in the craft of magic. Similarly the ritual deviation can be seen with the witches of ancient Greece in Thessaly who were renowned for their magic. In Italy witches worshipped the goddess Airdia or Areda whose origin was Aradia.


Contemporary painting of the Triple Goddess

 Therefore the myth of the goddess had a central role in all witch initiations, which like the rites of Freemasonry, has three degrees. Firstly the initiate experiences a spiritual death, the death of the old self, in order to be reborn as a witch, and child of the goddess. Secondly, the initiate enters by a rite of passage, the magical circle. Thirdly, in this manner the initiate symbolically became a member of the craft (Guiley, 1992).


 An initiate of the goddess

Witchcraft is in essence goddess worship. The virgin or maiden aspect of the goddess, as Artemis or Diana, the wild and free huntress, is the New Moon. As the mother, matron at her sexual and most fecund peak, she is the Full Moon. Symbolically she is Isis, Ishtar, Selene, Demeter and the Celtic Queen Maeve. As hag or crone she is the dark or Waning Moon, the post-menopausal wise but barren woman who guards the mysteries of death. She is Hecate.


Contemporary depiction of the three stages of womanhood.

 From an anthropological and historical position witchcraft is the antithesis of sorcery as well as form of sorcery. Both simply employ the use magical powers to affect a change. Witchcraft in some form or other has existed since the Palaeolithic, the universality of magic being the ritual performance, the attempt to contact and commune with the supernatural, enacting originally the ability of humans, of men to hunt successfully at the behest of the goddess.


This was written having remembered a visit in the mid-1950’s to Gardner’s witch museum in the Isle of Man. A fascinating and remembered visit especially as I looked up and saw him looking down at me from a small gallery above. He heard me telling my family that I did not believe in witchcraft or the enchanting local fairy lore, but what a fascinating place his exhibition and gift shop were.



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