Category Archives: Folklore

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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Graves, R. (1966). The White Goddess. Farrar, Srauss& Giroux. New York.M

Green, Amanda. (1992). Animals in Celtic Life and Myth. Routledge, London.

Greenwood, Susan. (2005). The Nature of magic. Berg Publishers.

Guiley, R. E. (1989). The Encyclopaedia of Witches and Witchcraft. Facts on File, Oxford.

Hutton, R. 1991; 1993). The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles. Blackwell, Oxford.

Hutton, R. (1991; 1995). The Triumph of the Moon. OUP, Oxford.

Hutton, R. (2006). Witches, Druids and King Arthur. Hambledon.

Lady Sheba. (1971). The Book of Shadows. Llewellyn.

Lady Sheba. (1972). The Grimoire of Lady Sheba. Llewellyn.

Larrington, C. ed. (1992). The Feminist Companion to Mythology. Pandora, London.

Lembke, K. (2006). The Threefold Law.

Luck, G. (1985). Arcana Mundi. Johns Hopkins.

Maier, B. (2000). Dictionary of Celtic Religion and Culture. Boydell.

Murray, Margaret. (1921). The Witch-cult in Western Europe. Standard Publications.

Murray, Margaret. (1931). The God of the Witches. USA.

Purkiss, Diane. (2006). The Witch in History. Routledge.

Raeburn, Jane. (2001). Wicca: the Ancient Wisdom for the 21st Century.

Salamonson, J. 2001. Enchanted Feminism. Routledge.

Stepanich, Kisma. (1998 a). Theory and Magick: The Irish American Faery. USA.

Stepanich, Kisma. (1998 b). The Shamanic Practices: The Irish American Faery. USA.

Valiente, Doreen. (1973). An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present. Custer, Washington.

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The Cailleachs of Gaelic and Celtic Lore


Cailleach Bheure

The Cailleach Beure.  Public domain.

The Cailleach is a word referring to a number of mythological figures in the folklore of Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man. In the mythology of the British Isles the Cailleach is a divine hag or crone and survival of a primordial goddess of earth, sky, sun and moon. The Cailleach is sacred crone, a deified ancestral figure and pre-Celtic creatrix, whose name in modern Scottish Gaelic means ‘Old Woman’ or hag. In appearance the Cailleach is believed to have a blue-black face, her eye in her forehead with white hair and red teeth.

This hag is also known as the caillech, the cailliach, the callech (or ‘veiled one’), cailleac, and ‘Gatekeeper to the Spirit World’.  A callech could also refer to a nun or cailleach-dhubh in Gaelic;  an old woman, widow or an owl as cailleach-oidhche in Gaelic; a wise woman or fortune teller as a cailleach feasa in Irish; a sorceress or charm worker or cailleach -phiseogach in Irish. In Irish the plural form is cailleacha and in Scottish it is cailleachan – the ‘Storm Hags who personify the destructive powers of the natural world. Caillech is also an old Celtic name for the goddess Kali. In terms of etymology related terms include the Gaelic caileag meaning ‘girl’ or ‘young woman’.

storm hags

Storm Hags.  Public domain.

The Cailleach was a goddess who, as a personification of the seasons, controlled the weather and winter from samhvinn (or November the 1st) until the summer months starting May 1st or Beltane. In Scotland, as ‘Queen of Winter’, she was called Biero. The winter Cailleach herded dear, resisted springtime and froze the soil with her staff or wand. In this aspect she was the Great Goddess in her aspect of the destroyer. Known thus as Caerlin, and Mala Liath. This is her aspect that represents the last sheaf of the harvest. As Carlin or Carline she was the ‘Corn Maiden’ or corn dolly. The Cailleach was an embodiment of the corn or field spirit, a personification of the last sheaf kept over winter until spring. In Lowland Scots  the words carline or carlin also mean Old Woman or witch.

The Cailleach are enshrined in various localities in Scotland and Ireland. The ‘Hag’s Head’ in County Clare is the Ceann na Cailleach. The Slieve na Calliagh hill is ‘Hag’s Hill’ or megalithic tombs at Loughcrew. In Scotland, on the Isle of Skye, is found the Beinn a Cailleach, the ‘Witch of Ben  Cruachan’ is the Cailleach nan Cruachan at Loch Awe or Loch Okha.


A number of local variants of the Cailleach exist. These include the Calleach Beara, the Cailleach Bheur, the Cailleach Bolus, the Caillagh Birra, the Calleach Uragaig, the Caillagh ny Gueshag, and the Calliagh ny Groamagh. The Callagh Birra is a variant of the Cailleach Bhierre in Ulster. In the Isle of Man the Caillagh ny Gueshag is the ‘Old Woman of the Spells’, and another name for the Caillagh ny Groamagh. She was and old and gloomy woman and mountain goddess and version of the Irish Cailleach Beure seen on St Bride’s Day as a giant bird. In Ireland the Cailleach Bolus was an aspect of the triple goddess along with Cailleach Bheur and Caillech Corca Duibhne.

The Cailleach Uragaig  is the hag and winter spirit of the isle of Colonsay in Strathclyde. This hag keeps a captive maiden and avoids the lover of the girl by shape-shifting into the moist and grey headland above the sea. The Cailleach Beara or the ‘Crone of Beare’  is an Irish giantess associated with mountains. Carrying giant boulders which she adds to her mountainous lands she is tutelary goddess of south west Munster.

Of significance is the Cailleach Bheur or Cailleach Bui of west Scotland. Known as the ‘Veiled One’ she is the destroyer aspect of the Great Goddess in Welsh and Manx mythology and folklore. Her other name is Scota from which Scotland originates. Known also as Calleach Bhierre, Beirre, Bearra, Bheare, Bheara, Beare, Beara, Bherri. In Old Irish she is the old hag, crone, woman, or nun of Beare or Calliagh Birra.

Caiileach Bheure

Cailleach Bheure.  Public domain.

An ancient pre-Celtic goddess of Ireland she is in parts of Britain a giantess and Winter Goddess. Emerges at Samhain as a blue-coloured ancient crone or hag who gets younger as time progresses. This controller of the weather and seasons, the earth, sky, sun and moon, becomes a maiden who disappears at Beltane. An Irish sovereignty figure her Scottish counterpart is Cailleach Beinne Bric.


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Witchcraft and Witches


The Circle.  J. W. Waterhouse. Public domain.

31.  Introduction

2.  Definition, Meaning and Interpretation

3.  Witchcraft and Sorcery

4.  Witchcraft and Demonology

5.  Anthropology and Ethnography of Witchcraft

6.  Witches, Witch-hunts and Witch Trials.

7.  Witchcraft and Folklore

1.  Introduction

The understanding of witchcraft can be approached from a number of academic and scholarly disciplines including anthropology, ethnology, mythology, as well as history and religion. Witchcraft which is variously termed ‘witchery’, spell-craft of just the ‘Craft’ refers the belief in or use of supernatural and magical powers to achieve good or bad outcomes. So called ‘white magic in witchery is the use of skills and abilities to heal. So-called ‘black magic’ in witchcraft is the use of supernatural means to inflict damage or harm. Witchcraft displays worldwide social and cultural variations, but which has a common cultural ideology as a means of explaining human misfortune. Witchcraft is underpinned by the belief that misfortune can be blamed on either supernatural entities or malevolence of earthly individuals.


The Witches Sabbath (1798).  Francisco Goya.  Private domain.

Witchcraft has existed in various forms and guises since the earliest times. However, witchcraft is regarded academically as distinct from many of the modern and contemporary conceptions of the belief and practice. Popular ideas of witchcraft encompass sorcery, magic, shamanism, superstition, folklore and folk medicine, as well as occult practices, necromancy and superstition. A persistent image of the witch is the riding abroad on a broom handle. As a belief witchcraft is not demonstrable whereas the magic of sorcery is based on actual practice, and involves “…the effort to manipulate the forces of nature directly, by the symbolic projection of powers, involving the learned use of objects, words and/or thoughts.” (Stevens, 1996).


The Witches Sabbath (1880).  Luis Riccardo Falero.  Public domain.

2.  Definition, Meaning and Interpretation

Etymologically the term witchcraft is derived from Old English wiccecraeft which combines wicce meaning ‘witch’ and craeft meaning ‘craft’. The Middle English noun is the  word wicche  meaning a woman who practices witchcraft and enchantment. In Old English the masculine is wicca and the feminine is wicce which is connected to viccian to practice witchcraft or witchery. In Middle Dutch wicker means soothsayer and Lower German wikken means to predict. Witchcraft in Europe has been regarded as an ideology to explain the occurrence of misfortune. The Hebrew term for a witch was mekarssepah which specifies a man or woman who makes spells, amulets, poisons and incantations, the word also corresponding to the Latin venfica (Thompson, 1927).


Witches Sabbath (1821-23).  Francisco Goya.  Public domain.

Various attempts have been made to construct a definitive terminology (Briggs, 1962; Ewen, 1929; Parrinder, 1950) which includes the diversity and many ramifications of witchcraft. Historically there has been much confusion about the definition of witchcraft and sorcery. When a witch curses she does not employ physical means or actions but “…is the vehicle for a power greater than herself, often the unwilling agent of vast evil forces…” (MacFarlane, 1972), and indeed  she may not have awareness of being an agent or witch at all.


Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft. Sir Walter Scott.  Public domain.

The witch may possess qualities that are derived from an inner and intangible quality called maleficium, which implies witchcraft is “…predominantly the pursuit of harmful ends by implicit/internal means.” (MacFarlane, 1972). Maleficent is from the Latin from the stem maleficus  meaning ‘evil doing’, and mal plus facere meaning ‘baleful’ or ‘hurtful’.   There is a difference between witchcraft and sorcery. Both represent distinct types of means, which appear to contrast means and ends, but actually have the same ends. Essentially sorcery “…combines harmful ends with explicit means.” (MacFarlane, 1972), whereas white witchery has beneficial aims or ends which it attempts to achieve by explicit means.

The object of witchcraft is to exert an influence on the mind and body of others, by malicious magic or witchery, to affect them against their will. Folk witchery, along with religious rituals, is often employed to frustrate the effect of malicious or malevolent magic. Nonetheless witches are considered as the blameworthy source of impotence, disease in animals, disease and ailments, and even sudden death. The word ‘witch’ is usually applied to a woman who is deemed capable of performing “…some operation beyond human power by the agency of evil spirits…” (Thompson, 1927).


Disquisitionum Magicarum (1679).  Martin del Rio.  Public domain.

With regard to the historiography of witchcraft however There is “…fairly widespread agreement that pre-industrial witchcraft has enough in common with contemporary primitive forms to be accounted the same phenomenon.” (Larner, 1982). Modern comparative studies have classified the elements of witchcraft into its component elements (Pocs, 1999; Larner, 1982).

The witch cults of contemporary western societies can be compared with a witchcraft examples drawn from traditional societies where there is belif in witches, sorcery and witchcraft. However this does not mean that actual correspondences always exist. Firstly, Type A or the maleficium, is witchery in its basic and simplest form and can include sorcery, incantations, causing harm though malevolence or malicious power (Larner, 1982). Secondly, Type B has been referred to as compact witchcraft which alludes to a pact with Satan. This form confuses the distinction between the maleficium and healing, and between ‘black magic’ and ‘white magic’ (Larner, 1982). Thirdly, Type C has been called sabbath witchcraft where witches have a compact with Satan as well as communion with other witches to pay homage to the devil.


Witches Flight (1797-98).  Francisco Goya.  Public domain.

Witch classification  (Pocs, 1999) has further divided witchcraft practitioners into three types. Firstly there is the co-called neighbourhood witch whose curses are a reflection of local tensions or conflicts.  Secondly there is the magical witch or sorcerer who functions within the community as a healer, midwife, seer and healer. Possibly having increased their worth due to detriment of others they are a reflection of social tensions on a wider scale. Lastly there is the supernatural or night witch who appears as the demon of nightmares, visions and disturbing dreams, being a phenomenon that explains community calamities. Fuseli Night Hag

The Night Hag Visiting Lapland Witches (1796).  Henry Fuseli.

There are two groups that comprise modern witch cults. Their practices and rituals do not fill the social roles they did in previous and traditional witch practicing communities and cultures (Larner, 1982). Firstly, Type I has a long and intermittent history that embraces satanic worship and evil  that is characterised by sex. Secondly, Type 2 regard themselves as the inheritors of an ancient pre-Christian fertility religion. he members of Type 2 congregate to carry out sacred dances and ancient rituals. Modern witchcraft in industrial societies do not blame the misfortunes of humans, such as wars, floods, earthquakes, disease and epidemics on witchcraft and sorcery but on contemporary circumstances. Modern witchery is now a branch of Wicca or modern paganism.

3.  Witchcraft and Sorcery

In origin the term sorcerer comes from Old French sorcer and Latin sortidrius  meaning a wizard or magician, with Old French sorcerie meaning witchcraft. In Hebraic scripture the word kasaph possibly means sorceress or witch. In those Jewish writings there are many references to sorcery, witches and witchcraft. When defining sorcery and its practitioners it is important to realise that “…the sorcerer controls the power inherent in certain ‘medicine’ or other objects.” (MacFarlane, 1982). The sorcerer or magician derives his power from invocations and acts of magic, whereas the witch have their derived supernatural powers from a communion with a demon or the Devil. Sorcerers unlike witches do not commune in groups or covens to carry out their rituals  as ‘companions of the devil’.


Witches and Sorcerers (1646).  Salvator Rosa.  Public domain.

Witchcraft and sorcery, by resorting to ‘mystical’ power and miraculous sources, both “…denote the projection of supernatural evil by human instigation.” (Stevens, 1996). The magic of evil intent is known as sorcery whereas witchcraft is characteristically the belief in the mysterious, in mystical forces. The belief in, and practice of, sorcery was widespread in the ancient Near East and “…persisted as an effort to control natural forces for good and evil.” (Stevens, 1996). The Hebrew kaseph could be translated in the Greek term for herbalist or pharmakeia, whereas in Latin veneficos could mean ‘poisoner’. Sorcery was conspicuous in ancient Egypt and in Babylonia, around 2000 BC  the Code of Hammurabi told of Akkadian anti-witchcraft rituals called the Maglu.


The Sorceress (1913).  J. W. Waterhouse.  Public domain.

A widely distributed example of sympathetic magic practice is that of envoutement. A form of casting a spell where the witch makes a clay or waxen image of the individual to be harmed or cursed, which to be effective must bear the name of victim. The effigy has to be “…modelled in great secrecy…the effigy next pricked all over with new needles, each prick being accompanied by an incantation and terrible imprecations,,,” (Thompson, 1927). The waxen model popularly called  ‘voodoo dolls’ were often slowly melted over a fire thus from “…historical and anthropological perspectives, witchcraft is a form of sorcery, the use of magical power to affect change.” (Guiley, 1992).

4.  Witchcraft and Demonology

Demonology is a branch of theology that studies demons and beliefs concerning them that goes back thousands of years. Demons are regarded as supernatural entities but who are not deities themselves. Contemporary outlooks connotates demonology and demons with malevolence and malignance. Etymologically the word demon is from the Greek ‘daimon’ or the Latin ‘daemon’ meaning divinity, divine power, a tutelary of protective deity. Originally daemons were species of in-dwelling evil spirits found in primitive animistic outlooks. As evil spirits demons were viewed as inferior divinities, devils or fiend-like men.  Modern day diverse groups of Satanic worshippers regard demons in general, and especially Satan, as real entities.

demonology cartoon

Demonology and Witchcraft (1830).  Henry Heath.  Public domain.

In pursuit of their Satanic quest witches are “…said to make two covenants with the devil, one public and one private.” (Scott, 1865). Demons are perceived to be fallen angels, an incubus or a succubus, malevolent revenants and ghosts, ancestral spirits or lost souls, as well as vampires and spectres. Therefore the term ‘demoniac’, from the Latin daemoniacus, means possessed by an evil spirit, a supernatural power. Arising out of this came the belief that witches regularly participated in obscene satanic gatherings. Assemblies to which they flew through the air to reaffirm their allegiance to the Devil.

Hell Hans Memling

Hell (1485).  Hans Memling.  Public domain.

Satanism comprises a broad spectrum of concepts that symbolically worship the Devil as a liberating demonic figure. The persona of Satan is only found in the theology and writings of the three Abrahamic religions, and Satanic cults inheritors of beliefs that existed prior to the Enlightenment. Wicca, or contemporary witchcraft recognises “…a bipolar Divine, God and Goddess and gives emphasis to the latter.” (Guiley, 1992), and therefore views Satanism as the ‘dark side of Christianity’. Organised groups of Satanists in the middle of the 20th century included the Ophite Cultus Satanas and the Church of Satan.


Witches Sabbath (1797-98).  Francisco Goya.  Public domain.

It was by selling one’s soul to the devil that one became a witch. Contemporary illustrations of the Devil often portrayed him as a horned goat-like figure complete with cloven feet and a tail. The compact with the Devil endowed the witch with a companion familiar, which was fed through a third nipple, as well as with Satanic powers. It was believed that the ‘kiss under the tail’ or osculum infame was the obscene manner by which witches greeted the Devil. It was also widely believed that female witches also copulated with either ‘demon lovers’ and incubi, or with Satan himself.


Nightmare (1800).  N. A. Abildgaard.  Public domain.

5.  Anthropology and Ethnography of Witchcraft

In anthropological terms there are difficulties encountered when comparing British and European witchcraft with its African counterpart. Anthropologically the classic distinction between ‘witchcraft, and ‘sorcery’ was made concerning the Azande who “…believe that some people are witches and can injure them in virtue of an inherent quality. A witch performs no rite, utters no spell, and possesses no medicines. An act of witchcraft is a psychic act. They believe also that sorcerers may do them harm by performing magic rites with bad medicines.” (Evans-Pritchard, 1937).

Magical beliefs and divinatory practices are found to be universal throughout the world in all human cultures. Magical belief implies that a magician can influence personal well-being and explain the misfortunes that randomly beset mankind. Belief in witchcraft provides a framework that various cultures have used to influence reality by supernatural means. If witchcraft is a phenomenon that has a universal existence it “…probably has been used since humankind first banded together in groups.” (Guiley, 1992).

An interpretation in British social anthropology (Evans-Pritchard, 1937), explained African witchcraft in terms of the control of social conflicts and the amelioration of human misfortunes. Blame for distress and misery was apportioned on an individual  deemed capable of using supernatural powers to inflict harm. This posited that the relationship between the evil-doer and the witch-affected or enchanted was functional in nature, and healers were considered to be sorcerers instead of witches.


Departure of the Witches (1878).  Luis Falero.  Public domain.

The phenomenon of witchcraft in Africa often referred to the one who diagnosed maladies caused by witches. The Zulu term for a witch-doctor was inyanga. Three types of witch were identified in South Africa. Firstly, the exclusively female thalcathi or malicious individual who did  harm in secret. Secondly, the usually female who detected illness, exposed criminals, used divination and practised some medicine, was called a sangoma. Thirdly, the inyanga or witch-doctor was always male and functioned to cure illness, to repair injuries, as well as provide magical remedies in the form of talismans, charms, and fetishes.

Black Magic

Witch-doctor’s paraphernalia from Nigeria.

There are many references to sorcery and the considered abomination of magical practices in the Hebrew scriptures. In the writings of Islam there are numerous references to the arts of divination and magic that encompass astrology, the manufacture of amulets and talismans, and ‘black magic’ or Sihr. The practice of sorcery or Sihr is forbidden. However, the prophets and messengers are permitted to carry out performance of miracles. The supernatural Jinn are capable of possessing humans and the Awliya can carry out supernatural acts.

Middle Eastern witchcraft and sorcery, which draws upon occult ritual magical ceremonies in the Jewish Kaballah, the Kaballa, mysticism and the Key of Solomon, as well as the Tree of Life. Later in textbooks of magical incantations known as grimoire, thence to the ‘Order of the Golden Dawn’, and the Tuscan ‘Legend of Aradia’.

6.  Witches, Witch-hunts and Witch Trials.

During the period around 1560 to 1680 attitudes toward and opinions concerning witchcraft varied according to religious persuasion. The popular concept of witchcraft that is pre-eminent is derived from the Old testament and the tenets of early Christianity. This ethic proposed that evil was associated with the devil as a manifestation of the eternal conflict between good and evil. In early Modern Europe belief in witchcraft led to wide-spread persecution of witches based on the belief that it represented a diabolical conspiracy against established Christianity.


Examination of the Witch (1853).  T. H. Matteson. Public domain.

The Catholic Church issued its first Papal Bulls against witchcraft in 1233 and 1484. The first was that of Pope Gregory the Ninth in 1233, and that of Innocent the Eigth in 1484. Papal Bulls promulgated against the belief in witchcraft and the practice of sorcery as well as the introduction of the Courts Extraordinary. During the Age of Enlightenment the hysteria of the European Protestant witch trials started to come to an end.

The established Protestant and Catholic churches of the Middle Ages regarded witchcraft as apostasy and heresy. In truth the charge of witchcraft was a “…colossal fraud and delusion, impossible because the ‘crime’ of witchcraft was an impossible crime.” (Robbins, 1959). A crime that could in fact not be committed. Christianity, and indeed that of Islam, believed they were engaged in a battle on an apocalyptic scale with the Devil and his secret army of witches. Out of this scenario the panic and fear of witchcraft and sorcery role to epidemic proportions and led to irrational witch hunts an a large scale.

the witch hunt Ferris

The Witch Hunt (1921).  Jean Leon Ferris.  Public domain.

A witch-hunt is the search for a witch or evidence of the practice of witchery. Persecution of witches had its equivalence during Celtic and Roman antiquity. In other words witch-hunts and witch trials were not peculiar to the medieval or early modern periods. The medieval witch mania began around 1450 in Europe. It was the imagined pact with the Devil that increased the belief in witchcraft and eventual legal sanctions to suppress it. Witchcraft came to be seen as a crime against the church itself.


Witch-hunts before 1750 in Britain were sanctified legally in witchcraft trials. However, in Britain the ‘crime’ of witchcraft was no longer punishable after the Witchcraft Act of 1735. The witch-hunts of the early modern period in Europe and America occurred between 1480 and 1750.Two German monks called Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer composed the Malleus Maleficarum in 1486. Published by Heinrich Institutoris. a German Dominican inquisitor, it was more commonly known by its English title the ‘Hammer of the Witches’.


Used for hundreds of years, by both Protestant and Catholic alike it was a manual of witch identification, as well as a denunciation of superstition and demonology, and also became the hand-book of the secular courts. The manual defined a witch, whether guilty or not, as a typically evil female. It contained explanations about why more women than men were witches. The manual detailed how to put a witch on trial and the punishments to be meted out. Confessions were permitted to be obtained by torture, in addition “…the property of the condemned witch also yielded extensive booty for whichever local authority had jurisdiction.” (Robbins, 1959).


The tradition stereotypically embedded within early modern traditions is that witches were women. Persecution of women for alleged witchcraft arose out of the natural awe of their supposed greater powers, influence and instincts. Christian scholars during the Middle Ages held dear to diabolical fantasies about the mythic goddess Diana. The majority of those accused of witchcraft were women and there is not justification in the stereotype that witches were old women as caste by Sir Walter Scott.


The modern stereotype image of a witch.  Public domain.

It is a gross error, as some witches were men, to confuse the witch with the crone of hag of myth and folktale. A male witch is also mistakenly called a ‘warlock’. Witchcraft accusations have been categories into four types (Pocs, 1999) which are: (1) those caught committing either active or passive sorcery; (2) a well meaning practising witch loses the trust of a client; (3) the so-called witch did no more than cause the enmity of a neighbour or ill-wisher, and; (4) the accused is surrounded by the aura of occultism or beliefs in witchery.


Witchcraft was suppose to have originated in anciently held heretical beliefs such as Catharism, the Waldensians , Gnosticism, and Manichaeism. The charge of heresy was allegedly based on the dualist concept of the struggle between good and evil. The belief was that the Devil and witches were party to a diabolical pact whereas in truth “…witchcraft is a Christian heresy…” (Robbins, 1959). The pursuit of witches, their hunting down and subsequent trials and executions can often be traced to panic, popular delusion, and social and mass hysteria.

Salem witches

The Trial of George Jacobs (1855).  T. H. Matteson.  Public domain.

The Witchcraft Acts were instituted in England, Scotland and Ireland between 1542 and 1735. The established church had on occasion condemned witchcraft as only a superstition with formal denunciations at other times. It was the Witchcraft Acts which codified the need to punish the practice of magic and witchcraft (Summers, 2002). It was in Switzerland and the south of France that witch-hunts erupted during the 14th and 15th centuries. Elsewhere in Europe witch fears peaked during the 17th century from the 15th and 16th centuries which came in waves with peaks and lows of persecution. In the south-west of Germany the peak years of the witch-hunt were between 1561 and 1670. The peak period in Europe of ‘witch mania’ was during the early 17th century. In the American colonies witch-hunting hysteria erupted in 1645. Notable were the Salem witch trials in the Puritanical state of Massachusetts from 1992 to 1695. Trials for witchcraft in Europe totalled some 12,000.


The witch-hunts and trials led to an estimate of between 40,000 and 60,000 executions. The final execution being in the 18th century. The Malleus Maleficarum, though employed throughout Europe during the Renaissance was not used by the Inquisition. Though witchcraft was condemned by the Catholic Church in 1490, the “…function of the Inquisition was to change the opinion of anyone who thought differently from what the church told him…” (Robbins, 1959). This was extended to the persecution of Jews in medieval Spain.


The Salem witchcraft hysteria. Engraving. Public domain.

In colonial north America the most notorious trials for witchcraft took place in Salem, state of Massachusetts. The incidents were in many respects the product of existing social and religious tensions. The process began with local magistracy hearings or tribunals followed by a series of trials in Courts of Oyer and Terminer. Between 1645 and 1663 in Springfield thirteen women and two men were arraigned and executed. In the counties of Essex, Suffolk and Middlesex, between February 1692 and May 1693 some 150 were arrested and imprisoned. Of these thirty people were hanged. Other trials led to the execution of fourteen women and five men.


The Execution of Mrs Ann Hibbins in 1696.  E. T. Merrill.  Public domain.

The reality was one where many in officialdom used the trials to seek profit and wealth in their victims ashes. The regulations meant that the victims or their relatives paid the salaries of the judges, clerks and scribes, physicians, torturers, guards and even clergy. Additional remunerations included those for scaffold and stake erectors, meaning the process whether religious or secular, made a the hangings and burnings a lucrative and pecuniary pursuit. People in various positions, of various trades and crafts, of many walks of life profited from the death of witches, and so “…by cruel butchery innocent lives are taken; and by a new alchemy, gold and silver are coined from human blood.” (Robbins, 1959).


The execution of witches in England, 17th century.  Public domain.

7.  Witchcraft and Folklore

Despite the fact that witches can appear with a deceptive beautiful appearance many descriptions from numerous cultures portrayed witches as hag-like and ugly crones. Credited with being capable of shape-shifting and possessing the power of flight, often on a besom, they were often accompanied by their demon animal familiars. In literary terms they have been ascribed as “…generally old, blear-eyed, wrinkled dames, ugly and crippled, frequently papists, and sometimes atheists; of cross-grained tempers and cynical dispositions…often poisoners and generally mono-maniacs…” (Scott, 1865).

Crossroads or ‘crossways’ for ages have been associated with witches. They were the usual sites of gibbets and gallows, and where the remains of criminals and suicides were interred. These “…cruciform landmarks.” (Brown, 1966), hark back to the trivium, the place where three crossroads met, of Roman antiquity. In this context the crossways was seen as a magical location.


Hecate: Procession to a witches Sabbath (1620). Jusepe de Ribera 

For witches and the practice of witchcraft three roads was a magical setting, with the trivium, as a seat of authority presided over by a three-faced monument to the goddess Hecate. The statue often presented as a three masked sacrificial post, the head of Hecate portrayed with the heads of a dog, a lion, and a horse (Brown, 1966). The triple masked portrayal may refer to the three phases of the moon, as well as symbolising the three season tripartite year of antiquity (Graves, 1979). As goddess Hecate regulated the calendar and time, as well as the three lunar phases. Suicides and criminals were laid to rest at the crossroads, the trivium, because it was the Underworld portal guarded by Hecate. In this sense the triple heads of Hecate are therefore assumed to symbolise the three states of sky, earth, and underworld. Witches as worshippers of the triplicity of the goddess, especially the Great Mother goddess, would gather at special sacred times of the year to celebrate a number of triplicities.


Witches at the Crossroads shrine of Hecate.  Public domain.

Religion, witchcraft and folklore beliefs are linked inextricably, where both religion and magic have been called upon or recruited to explain what appears inexplicable. Witchcraft possesses cultural and historical universality because it fulfils an important social need. Many events and happenings have caused human suffering and calamity. It is these circumstances whereby witches became scapegoats.

However, the term witch does not always carry a negative meaning in England. For example, in France they could be called ‘devins-guerisseurs’ or ‘divine healers’. Witches were an integral part of their communities who, as ‘cunning folk’, as ‘white, ‘good’ and ‘unbinding’ witches had an ambivalent role socially. The occurrence of day to day events such as illness, animal and livestock sickness and death, and milk=-spoiling or crop failure were blamed on them. The contradiction lies in the fact that witches were also described as ‘wise women’, ‘blessers’, as wizards and sorcerers, as well as ‘wise men’ and ‘cunning men’. In other words the folk magician had an ambivalent role within their local communities.

The local witch, despite their villainous place in many folktales, had a knowledge of herbalism, healing and potions, of midwifery, and in many instances were the local mediators between the spiritual and the actual world. As with shamans they had the social responsibility for, and expectations, of those they taught, as well as prophecy, of fairy contact and the enchantment of heroines and heroes in tales of wonder in folklore and folktale.

In folklore and folktale witches were believed naively to have the ability to fly, of travel to the Otherworld, of magical transformation or ‘shape-shifting’. Again, their advice on fertility and love was also contrasted with their believed ability to create repulsive concoctions from malevolent ingredients such as fogs legs, human hair, bones and nails, bats and toads. In this context it can be seen that the origins of witchcraft was part of religion, sorcery part of folklore (Robbins, 1959).

The witch-cult hypothesis or theory (Murray, 1971) postulated that the established church during the middle-ages had persecuted witches for their beliefs and practices. That European witchcraft was suppressed for being a pagan religion remains a controversial theory. Hence the claim that witchcraft had pre-Christian origins. Witchcraft, as a religious belief, was popularised during the 19th and early 20th centuries. In certain respects it is a post-second world war phenomenon (Guiley, 1992). Witchcraft designated itself as a branch of neo-paganism around the middle of the 20th century. It was in many ways a movement grounded in a popular interest in myth and the occult.

Witchcraft and the tradition of Wicca was popularised in the public imagination by Gerald Gardner (1884-1964).In the 20th century the original initiatory secret societies were the Bricket Wood Coven of Gerald Gardner and the Clan of Tubal Cain of Ray Bowers. It has to be stressed that modern witchcraft and Wicca are regarded as separate from Satanism. Indeed, in practical as well as historical terms witchcraft is divided into many traditions.


Gerald Gardner.  Public domain.

Contemporary belief and practice of witchcraft “…as a religion seeks to redisover the transcendant Divine Feminine and to affirm the divine feminine within both women and men.” (Guiley, 1992). Of interest in modern times is that the persistence in belief in witchcraft is that it may have a social and psychological function. In one sense it may function as a means of transferring the seeming malevolence of fate to invisible objects. Again this may also explain the survival of healing ‘white magic’ compared to the supernatural power intended for evil purposes by ‘black magic’.

Wicca skycld worship

Wiccan Sky Clad worship.  Public domain.

The Wicca of the 20th century does involve an amount of folk medicine, spiritual healing, and various levels of magical practice that is derived from European pre-Christian ritual and worship of the triple goddess. The 20th century revival of Wiccan religion grew out of interest in the pan-European witch-cult (Murray, 1921).  Even though Wicca still venerates ancient deities and elementals, as well as pagan archetypes and the forces of nature, the cult-theory is somewhat discredited. Interest in Gardner’s witchcraft, which still existed in the mid-1950’s, is now disputed. Nonetheless, the forms of contemporary Neo-Paganism display differences because of different origins. Indeed unfair ridicule is directed at Wicca because some groups use ritual nudity  and ritual ceremonies dedicated to the goddess or her surrogate on earth.

Goddess descent

 The ceremony of Descent of the Goddess.  Public domain.

The practice of divination, working in tandem with unseen spirits, natural forces and magic, as well as spiritual healing and folk-medicine, are still representative. Secrecy and private initiatory practices are a feature of Neo-Pagan groups. Nonetheless, the movement attempts to re-create assumed pre-Christian pagan traditions that may be shamanic and polytheistic. In other words modern Neo-Paganism “…or Wicca, the Craft or the Old Religion…combines magic with pagan religions and mythologies…” (Guiley, 1992). The movement in many respects appears to continue ancient traditions found in folk magic and religious magic. Much of modern witchcraft is aimed at turning malevolence aside that indicates a high level of environmental friendliness. Separated from the popular connotations of ‘black magic’ the practice and beliefs of Wicca emerge as a genuine socially responsible religion .

 References and sources consulted.

Adler, M.  (1979).  Drawing Down the Moon.  Beacon Press, Boston.

Briggs, K. M.  (1962).  Pale Hecate’s Team.  Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.

Brown, T.  (1966).  The Triple Gateway.  Folklore.  77 (2).

Buckland, R.  (2002).  The Encyclopaedia of Witchcraft, Wicca and Neo-Paganism.  Visible Ink, Detroit.

Chisholm, H. (1911).  Demonology.  In: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition.  CUP.

Douglas, M.  ed.  (1970).  Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations.  Tavistock, London.

Evans-Pritchard, E. E.  (1937).  Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande.  Clarendon, Oxford.

Ewen, C. L.  (1929).  Witch Hunting and Witch Trials.  Kegan Paul, London.

Guiley, R. E.  (1992).  Witchcraft as Goddess Worship.  In: Larrington, C.  ed.  (1992).

Hutton, R.  The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. OUP, Oxford.

Larner, C.  (1982).  Is All Witchcraft Really Witchcraft?.  In: Marwick (1982).

Larrington, C.  ed.  (1992). The Feminist Companion to Mythology.  Pandora, London.

Lewinson, D. & Ember, M. eds.  (1996).  Encyclopaedia of Cultural Anthropology.  Henry Holt, New York

MacFarlane. A.  (1982).  Definitions of Witchcraft.  In: Marwick, M. (ed).  Penguin, Harmondsworth.

Martin, L.  (2010).  A Brief History of Witchcraft.  Running Press.

Marwick, M.  ed.  (1982).  Witchcraft and Sorcery. 2nd ed.  Penguin, Harmondsworth.

Murray, M.  (1921).  The Witch-Cult in Western Europe.  OUP, Oxford.

Murray, M.  (1970).  The God of the Witches.  OUP, Oxford.

Parrinder, G.  (1950).  Witchcraft.  Penguin, Harmondsworth.

Pocs, E.  (1999).  Between the Living and the Dead.  Central European University Press, Budapest.

Remy, N.  (1974).  Demonology.  University Books.

Robbins, R. H.  (1959).  Introduction.  Encyclopaedia of Witchcraft and Demonology.  Peter Newell Ltd, London.

Ruickbie, L.  (2004).  Witchcraft out of the Shadows: A History.  Robert Hale, London.

Sagan, C.  (1996).  The Demon Haunted World.  Random House, New York.

Scott, Sir W.  (1885).  Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft.  Scotland.

Stevens, P.  (1996).  Sorcery and Witchcraft.  In: Lewinson (1996).

Summers, M.  (2003).  Geography of Witchcraft.  Kessinger Publishing, USA.

Thomas, K.  (1971).  Religion and the Decline of magic. Weidefeld and Nicholson, London.

Thurston, R.  (2007).  The Witch Hunts.  Pearson Longman. London.

Valiente, D.  (1989).  The Rebirth of Witchcraft.  Robert Hale, London.


Filed under Folklore

Magic and the Supernatural


Black Magic

Black Magic paraphernalia in Nigeria

1.  Introduction

2.  Etymology and Definitions

3.  Sympathetic Magic

4.  Origins of magic

5.  The Anthropology of Magic

6.  Magic in Prehistory

7.  Ritual and Magic

8.  Esoteric Magic

9.  Magic and Religion

10.  Folklore and Magic

1.  Introduction

Magic as a social phenomenon has been a basic, persistent and familiar aspect in all folk cultures. The essence of magic or magical practice is the attempt by people, or their shamans and magicians, to manipulate the spiritual and natural forces that they believed surrounded them. The intention was to manage, bend to their own volition,  to what was perceived as the numinous and the paranormal. In this sense magic can be defined as “…connection with events imagined to be constant and to depend upon the agency of some thing or activity possessing an efficacious quality or force…” (Read, 1920).

Magic, as a means to influence and therefore try and control external reality, came before religion. Religion worships unseen deities, they are invisible supernatural entities. The ancient deities that required propitiation through sacrifice and ritualised practice. Contemporary magic is seen in terms of alchemy, astrology, the cabala, and the hermetic or high magic. The hermetic element is derived from Hermes Trismegithus, and since antiquity the “…sophisticated forms of mysticism that relied on written notations and formulas have been called hermetic magic.” (Stevens, 1996).

2.  Etymology and Definition.

The concept of magic and sorcery depends on a primitive association of ideas. Magic is a belief or system of concepts that asserts humans have the potential, using supernatural, paranormal or mystical methods such as sacrifice, invocations, spells and prayers, to control or influence supernatural powers as well as the natural environment. This system of beliefs that claimed humans could employ symbolic communication to control natural forces without spiritual help, prompted many scholars to say “…magic is the outcome of an erroneous view of nature and causation, we class as magic the belief in sympathetic influence…” (Thomas (1904).

Etymologically the word ‘magic’ is derived from the term magique in 14th century Old French which in turn comes from the Latin magicus and the magikos of Greek. It is in reference to the divinations and magical practices of the Zoroastrian astrologer priests of the Magians, the Magi. Magical practice of a beneficial type is referred to as ‘white magic’, and magic that involves diabolic or blood rituals is called ‘red’. The term ‘black magic’ refers to practices involving the devil. Evil or black magic in contemporary sources is often called sorcery. In classificatory terms magic can be subdivided into five headings: magic as a practice; witchcraft and shamanism; theurgic magic; incantation; and divination (Thomas, 1904).

The term sorcery was first mentioned around 1300 AD being derived from the sorcerie of Old French. The Latin word sortiarius  comes from  the root sors meaning ‘fate’. The word ‘sorcery’ was never elucidated by Sir James Frazer but he “…uses that term for any instance of the practice of magic.” (Stevens, 1996). Nonetheless sorcery as the practice of ‘one who influences fate’ was perceived as a psychical  rather than physical influence. In other words sorcery implies the use of spells. In addition the word sorceress was extant by the 14th century whereas the term sorcerer was known only from 1526.

CirceCirce as a sorceress. Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses (1981).  J. Waterhouse.  Public domain.

Mana is a word that appears in many Polynesian cultures and can mean powerful forces of nature and a manifestation of the invisible supernatural and the paranormal. The Polynesian and Melanesian concept of mana as “…impersonal supernatural force” (Mauss, 1972) has parallels in other cultures. Accepted parallels of the presumed phenomenon of mana can be found with the orenda of the Iroquois, the manitou of the Algonquin, the wakau of the Sioux. In Malay there is kramat, the concept of brahma in India, and the Greek dynamis. Therefore it becomes obvious “…that the word magic is used to include a confused mass of beliefs and practices…” (Thomas, 1904). For Sir George Frazer magic was a form of ‘savage science’ but magic was actually in this sense was non-existent.

3. Sympathetic Magic

Historically “…magical remedies, rituals and explanations which were passed down by word of mouth from one generation to the next…as a narrative of folk or religious discourse.” (Williams, 1999).  This is an demonstrates the persistence of the effect of oral transmission of belief even after the original reason for the belief has long ceased to exist.  The theory of sympathetic magic, similarity and contagion originated with the works of Sir James George Frazer (1854-1941), the Scottish anthropologist who influenced the early progress of modern studies in comparative religion and mythology. Indeed, it was Frazer in The Golden Bough (1911) who “…elaborated on Tylor’s notions of association of ideas and in his elucidation of ‘sympathetic magic…” (Stevens, 1996).

Frazer opined that if “…we analyze the principles of thought on which magic is based, they will probably be found to resolve themselves into two: first, that like produces like, or that an effect resembles its cause; and, second, that things which have once been in contact with each other continue to action each other at a distance after the physical contact has been severed. The former principle may be called the Law of Similarity, the latter the Law of Contact or Contagion. From the first of these principles, namely the Law of Similarity, the magician infers that he can produce any effect he desires merely my imitating it: from the second he infers that whatever he does to a material object will affect equally the person with whom the object was once in contact, whether it formed part of his body or not.” (Frazer, 1933).

Early healing was “…supposed to be attained by the homeopathic principle that like cures like.” (Ettlinger, 1943).  In the view of Frazer sympathetic magic or the Law of Sympathy “…can be subdivided into its two branches. Firstly, Homeopathic Magic or the Law of Similarity, and secondly Contagious Magic or the Law of Contact.” (Frazer, 1933).  It follows that charms based on the Law of Contact or Contagion can be described as Contagious Magic. The categorisation of magic into sympathetic magic is the logic upon which all magic is based, and all magical acts “..may be reduced to one or other of these two principles.” (Krappe, 1930).

Moreover, with regard to the mystique of charms and amulets, they encompass a “…particular kind of mediation, and interplay between authoritative knowledge (science) and enchantment (magic).” (Macdonald, 2005).  Essentially ‘primitive’ magic is based on the idea “…that by creating the illusion that you control reality, you can actually control it.” (Thomson, 1973).  In other words amulets, charms, and talismans represent the appreciation and practice of personal sympathetic or homeopathic magic by the individual.

4.  Origins of Magic

Magic has its origins in the history of a caste or clan of priests in ancient Medea and Persia. These initial ‘magicians’ were the Magi of Zoroastrianism. The word ‘magi’ is a Greek term that possesses a number of meanings. The Magi were followers of Zoroastrianism and its belief in the supreme god called Ahura Mazda. This ancient religion was founded in the first millennium BC by Zoroaster (Zarathrustra).


The Magi of ancient Persia were credited with great occult powers which were said to originate with the ancient Indian Brahmins. Zoroastrians spread their religion and practices to ancient Egypt, the Middle East, and Asia Minor. A large number of magical papyri have been discovered in Egypt with Cptic and Demotic texts in Alexandria and Greece. These ideas were incorporated into the hermetic nature of Hellenistic religion with strong elements of magic and its practice found in the Greek mystery religions.

The cabbala or kabbalah is from the Hebrew qabbala or kabbalah words meaning ‘accepted tradition’, from ancient Jewish oral lore and history. Originating in the 11th and 12th centuries the Kabbalah is a mystical Jewish theological and metaphysical system. The Kabbala or Cabbala comprises two threads of development encompassing the ‘practical’ and ‘the ‘theoretical’.

The practical aspect includes prayers, meditation and performing pious acts, whereas the theoretical aspect is aimed at discovering the hidden mysteries of the scriptures. Consisting of secret and mystic doctrines the Kabbalah reflects the older teachings of the Neoplatonists and Neopythgoreans. Those who guarded the secrets of the Cabbala were believed to possess the powers of magical practice.


Syncretism of Cabala, Alchemy and Astrology.  Germany (1616).

The medieval Cabbalists were primarily occupied with deciphering charms, searching for the ‘philosophers stone’, analysing mystical anagrams, as well as prophecy and prognostication. In addition they were believed to attempt, or create the illusion, of establishing contact and relations with the dead.

5.  The Anthropology and Magic

The “…ethnological meaning of magic…” implies “…beliefs in the use of symbols to control forces in nature.” (Stevens, 1996). The definition and interpretation of magic, in anthropology, recognises the practices and beliefs aimed at intervention to control natural processes. Belief in magic was always at its most ingrained in situations of uncertainty which made it “…one of the most pernicious delusions that ever vexed mankind.” (Tylor, 1871). For a number of ethnologists anthropologists magic is is a “…precursor of science in the sense that the logic on which it is built is a precursor of the logic which is ate the base of all scientific work.” (Krappe, 1930).

Magic which, for Sir James Frazer, was the earliest stage in the evolution from religious belief to scientific thought was “…once universal belief in a mystical power of which magic, spiritual power…the sacred are the manifestations…” (Stevens, 1991). Despite its ancient commonality it was eventually stressed that magic was rooted in a mistaken association of ideas “…mistaking an ideal for a real connection.” (Stevens, 1996), which was characteristic of “…the lowest known stages of civilisation.” (Tylor, 1971). The use of magic that involves certain ingredients or objects once in contact with the objectified individual is termed contagious magic.

6.  Magic in Prehistory

During the prehistoric era people did not differentiate between the main classes of phenomena – namely the supernatural or mysterious and the familiar or natural. Magic developed into the belief that the individual power of the shaman, shamanka, or magician could influence the natural processes by the efficacious use of spells and sacred rites. In other words  the ability and power of the shaman enable him or her to persuade spirits entities conform to his will. The implication contained within the shamanic belief is that the power of the practitioner is derived from a spiritual communication.

Shamanism however implies that the influence is not inherent in the practitioner or magician but is “…derived by initiation or other ceremonies from a store of force…” (Thomas, 1904). Witchcraft however posits that the source of the power of the shaman or magician is either permanently or temporarily obtained from a spirit entity. Essentially this means that the influence of human magicians over natural events depends on spiritual response.aid independent of the clan or tribe. A belief in a spirit domain was elemental to shamanism and was just as elemental to the early development of prehistoric communities. Archaeologically it is also relevant that shamanic practice and belief characterised much of Babylonian and Egyptian pictographs.

The classic division of sympathetic magic is into two principles of thought (Frazer, 1978), with (1) like produces like and thus effect resembles cause, and the things once in contact continue to act on each other (Ucko, 1967). The theory of sympathetic magic is based upon a “…proposed relationship of identity between an image and its subject.” (Pearson, 2002), therefore acting on an image equates with acting upon a person or animal represented. For Upper Palaeolithic people there were two major aspects of sympathetic magic – hunting and fertility magic (Ucko, 1967).

Magic rests upon the principle “…that by creating the illusion that you can control reality you can actually control it.” (Thomson, 1978). Cave art, as a magico-religious function, served sympathetic magic which (1) depends upon belief that similarity or relationship equates with identity, and (2) that anything down to an image or related part will affect the thing itself (Hawkes, 1965). The three main aims of magical practice are hunting, fertility, and destruction (Pearson, 2002). As a guide to action “…the ideology of magic embodies the valuable truth that the external world can in fact be changed by man’s subjective attitude towards it.” (Thomson, 1978).

Prehistoric cave art as enacted rituals is an example of Palaeolithic sympathetic magic, and probably represents the acting out of a hunting expedition that is yet to happen. Modern theoretical interpretations of cave paintings are based upon studies of recent and contemporary hunter-gatherers. In other words the paintings are “…associated with the magic of the hunt.” (Campbell, 1991). The cave paintings are credited to Palaeolithic shamans who, in a state of trance, descend into the darkness of the caves to create images as a consecration of the animal to be hunted. In these remote and isolated sanctuaries the shamans create works of art in a “…participation mystique…” (Campbell, 1991), and ritual magical ceremony. Moreover, it must not be assumed that cave paintings were the work of men when many may be the result of female creativity. The variability of the subject images, of both hunted animals and predators, as well as human hand prints suggests a totemic aspect and participation in the ritual.

Hunting magic, by possessing the image of the desired animal thereby possesses the animal itself (Pearson, 2002), and was applied to great hunted herbivores – bison, horses, aurochs, ibex and deer. Destructive magic was applied to animals dangerous to humans – felines and bears. Upper Palaeolithic images rest upon the premises of sympathetic magic, within the scenario that magical arts have a utilitarian objective in aiding survival (Pearson, 2002), therefore totemic magic is the pictorially dramatic representation of the sacred animal driven by the “…implicit theory of the kinship of all forms of life.” (Thomson, 1978). Hunting involves also a sexual division of labour – with mobile hunters being male (Malinowski, 1913; Bancroft, 1875); females immobile due to pregnancy and lactation (Zuckerman, 1936). With hunting positing a division of labour within matrilineal descent the clan is centred on women with children members of the clan of their birth (Thomson, 1978). As clan membership is determined by descent and reckoned originally through the mother, and this instances matrilineal to patrilineal not the reverse, then matrilineality would preponderate among hunting peoples of ancient times.

Mimetic dance increases the power of the hunter and ceremonies for species propagation are “…performed at the opening of the breeding season at a prescribed spot, called the totem centre, on the hunting ground of the clan to which the totem belongs.” (Thomson, 1978). Clansmen are forbidden to eat but not kill, but there are exceptions, with the headman obliged to eat a little to get the totem inside him to work his magic (Spencer, 1904). The interpretation of Palaeolithic art has been used “…as evidence of beliefs in the efficacy of magic…” (Ucko, 1967), therefore there was Upper Palaeolithic sympathetic magical practice, as well as the allusion, to totemic beliefs. An increase ritual represents the growth of the totem and includes dances by disguised performers who mimic the species, because mimicry of a successful operation is the essence of magic (Thomson, 1978).

Magic is employed to useful animals – reindeer, bison, horse, and hunted for food, plus magic associated with dangerous animals – bear and lion (Grazioli, 1960). Therefore the exteriorisation of art for the “…reproduction of visual reality by the need to attain practical ends.” (Grazioli, 1960). Countless bison, horses, oxen, ibexes, reindeer are engraved or painted with weapons transfixing bodies, arrows and javelins fly around animal figures at Lascaux (Grazioli, 1960). At Niaux animals are painted stuck by arrows, with a carved bison with engraved arrows, another with engraved wounds. At Montespan a horse engraved on clay is pockmarked with spear thrust holes, and images of wounded animals are plentiful. Magic practices are related to capture of prey portraying nets and traps (often painted next to animals) with associated animal figures. In addition hand-prints mean taking possession of prey in connection with animal images.

Fertility magic is “…thought to assist the procreation of useful species by depicting pregnant females or animals of opposite sex in pre-coupling scenes.” (Pearson, 2002), and Breuil (1965) interpreted Palaeolithic art as a reflection of fertility and hunting magic. Sympathetic magic is the basis of Palaeolithic art, the cave is the sanctuary where magic is used for reproductive rites, destruction of predators, and increase ceremonies for animals and human beings (Ucko, 1967). Upper Palaeolithic artists imaged animals to symbolise earth’s cyclic rebirth creating a “…mystic rapport with the animals, a rapport negotiated by their shamans, and cemented by their paintings.” (Krupp, 1997). Fertility magic plus hunting magic usually combined as one overall sympathetic magic interpretation, therefore “…totemic and fertility magic interpretations are most clearly related (Ucko, 1967). Scenes of hunting as pictorial magic are found worldwide.

7.  Ritual and Magic

The object of magical practice is to achieve a specific and desired effect. Magical rites, actions and objects have a dual purpose of either being offensive or defensive. Magical practice is imbued with a sense of the sacred. The most well known form of magic is the formulaic ritual described as a spell, indeed “…most magic acts are accompanied by words, usually a magic song. The very etymology of the word group derived from Latin incantare testifies to this state of affairs.” (Krappe, 1930). Rituals are those magical practices that are not seen as spells, as magical ceremonies that are not only associated and compounded with purification rituals but also taboos. In essence rituals are focussed on the divine to achieve spiritual purification or communion.

Spells consist of, and incorporate the power of written or uttered formulae, as well as objects made of various ingredients. In other words the use of natural objects and elements, often comprising magical implements such as spells talismans and rituals. The aim and function of a talisman is to serve as an offensive charm. Spells as analogues of charms are often accompanied by rituals. Incantations, similarly with amulets, have the purpose of being defensive charms. Their defensive purpose is accomplished by being chanted as words. Indeed, the origin of spells derived from the practice of prayer.

Divination has the purpose of discovering what will be. It is the art and practice of using means of which “…picture the future in the present…are glimpses of eternity periodically available to society…” (Stewart, 1994). In terms of magic and time divination is “…often based upon magic, a fact which has undoubtedly strengthened the opposition of the church to that pseudoscience.” (Krappe, 1930). The aim of necromancy, which is concerned with summoning and conversing with the spirits of dead ancestors, is to seek communion and aid of those spirits.

divinationThe Crystal Ball (1902).  J. W. Waterhouse.  Public domain.

Astrology is the study of the associated or supposed influence of the planets and stars. The practice of prophecy is the art of augury. Divination using playing cards is called cartomancy. As with reading the Tarot deck the practice of divination includes chiromancy or palmistry, dowsing, scrying, and the casting of runes. The use of stones is termed lithomancy. There is also fortune telling, omen interpretation, and geomancy which is divination employing lines and figures. Other elements of these ‘artes magicae’ are nigromancy and demonology and ‘black magic’, hydromancy, aeromancy or divination by air, as well as divination by fire or flame called pyromancy.

Magicians base their belief on a number of principles, which assert the existence of invisible natural forces such as spiritual intervention, and mystical powers being a component of all things. Manipulation and magical control is achieved by symbols representing the object to be manipulated. In essence this represents the basis of sympathetic magic. Control is supposedly achieved by using cosmic forces, deep meditation or concentration, trance, or seeking mana or numen in the so-called subconscious.


Magic Circle (1886).  J. W. Waterhouse.  Public domain.

Even though its origin is unknown the so-called ‘Magic Circle’ can be traced back over five millennia. As an ancient symbol it resembles that of the circle forms by a serpent with its tail in its mouth. In ancient magical practice “…the motif of the magic circle that protects against the devil is in fact common in the world of folklore.” (Stewart, 1994). With regard to medieval magic the belief in the “…nefarious powers of witches and wizards is or course considerably older and no doubt goes back into Indo-European times…” (Krappe, 1930).


Solomonic Magic Circle with Triangle of Conjuration.

The primitive ritual circle and an important component of the “…magical ceremonial was drawing of the magic circle which formed the spiritual barrier…” (Thompson, 1927), and the “…cosmological principles that underpinned it were formalised in late antique magical practice…” (Stewart, 1994). The magic circle employed by early magicians was a medieval development. Hindu magicians in prehistoric India created circles made of black pebbles or red lead to defend against encroachment by demons.

The magic circle, used to create and formalise a ritual and sacred place, and operationalised by the neo-Platonists, appears “…prominently in rituals for keeping away demonic and other malevolent forces.” (Stewart, 1994). A vital and integral component of the later ‘magic circle’ is the development known as the pentacle.


Example of a modern pentacle. Public domain.

An important item in the armoury of the magician is the pentacle, however the “…origin of the five cornered figure, and how it came to be used as a symbol of magic is unknown…is variously called a pentogram, pentangle, pentalpha or pentagon of Euclid.” (Stewart, 1994).

8.  Esoteric Magic

The term ‘esotericism’, derived from ‘esoteros’, means ‘pertaining to the innermost’ or simply ‘inner’ and is the scholarly study of esoteric religious movements, practices and beliefs. There are many occult and magical traditions under the umbrella of esoteric religion, and philosophies, that include astrology, the Kaballah, mysticism, theosophy. freemasonry, spiritualism and hermeticism, which we “…seem to know now that esoteric and magical modes of thinking are faulty.” (Heva, 2010). Indeed, guardian or protectors gods and goddesses concerned with magic are often referred to as ‘hermetic deities’ or ‘spirit guides’.

Esoteric magic seem concerned with modes of thinking and practice that involve highly specialised concerns such as: exploring the hidden meanings of symbols; the presence of a supernatural or divine ‘life force’; the belief  that there is connection between an invisible and visible cosmos; that personal and spiritual transmutation can be achieved by magical powers ; and thus access to spiritual awareness and knowledge is achievable through esoteric means.

Initially magical practice employed arcane symbols to summon spirits in combination with incantations and magical spells to involve those spirits. In addition to ritual equipment and magic wands the magician protected himself from harm within a ‘magic circle’.  Early magic was described as “…mystical mentality…” and in terms of a “…law of participation.” (Levy-Bruhl, 1923). This scholar insisted upon stressing a difference between ‘pre-logical’ primitive magical thinking and the developed and civilised ‘logical’ mentality. As a branch of esoteric magic and practice alchemy has come to be “…popularly associated with the transmutation of metals and the discovery of the philosopher’s stone (the elixir of life)…” (Heva, 2010).



Circe Invidiosa (1892).  J. W. Waterhouse.

An important feature of religion is the universal of ‘magical thinking’ which occurs in various cultural forms. In the form of shamanism, mimetic practices, and organised religion magic is prevalent, or has been, in all societies. Magical thinking can be described as ‘associative thinking’ which Sir E. B. Tylor regarded as pre-logical thinking. There was no distinction made between magic and religious practice in the pre-monotheistic religions. Magical thinking is a form of causal reasoning that includes all magical systems. The causal basis is that the mind can be used to exert an effect on external reality. This is association based reasoning called the ‘magician’s folly’ whereby and ideal or imaginary connection is mistaken for a real one. In other words the magician believes that items linked by association can influence each other by virtue of their similarity (Evans-Pritchard, 1976).

Magical thinking postulates that a correlation exists between utterances, or spells, practical acts, and specific events. In essence words and sound are believed to possess the ability or potential to affect external reality directly (Gluckwich, 1997). This includes the use of symbols, prayers, chants and incantations, or mystical phrases, in the belief that the world can be changed.

The use of symbols, which represent or substitute for an identity, implies that there is a symbolic component of magical thinking. The symbolism of magical thinking is aimed at the achieving of a desired state. For Sir James Frazer such thinking was mimetic. The theory is that the use of symbols can be used to alter the psycho-physical state of involved participants. The believers in magic, according to Frazer, thought reality and the whole world functioned according to mimetic or homeopathic principles. (Frazer, 1933).

With reference to numerology it was Pythagoras who viewed numbers as influential principles. His belief was that numbers possessed a mystical value, as well as size and quality, that was linked to cosmic influences. The idea that numbers have magical properties has persisted since ancient times and is derived chiefly from Hindu, Arabic, Chinese and Jewish traditions. (Thompson, 1927). Numerology contains elements of many early cultures that include Babylon, China, Egypt, Hellenistic Alexandria, as well as the Hindu Vedas, the Hebrew Kabbalah, as well as Gnosticism and mysticism (Schimmel, 1993).

The mystical study of ‘magical numbers’ led the their symbolism being used interpretively in divination. This form of divination is based on the belief that there is a mystical, special and divive link between a specific number and certain events (Schimmel, 1993). Numerology is comprised of many beliefs and systems from a number of traditions. The underlying unifying belief is that numbers are a part of astrology, divination and therefore the paranormal.

Certain numbers occur regularly in magic, sorcery and folklore beliefs. The Holy or Trinity number is that of three. It represents a beginning, a middle, and an end. A combination in other terms of body, mind and spirit whose enemies are the world, flesh and the devil. The number three as the perfect harmony as the union of unity and diversity.  The number four is the Pythagorean sacred number. the root of all numbers. It is the square number the four seasons and the four elements of earth. air, fire and water. Seven is the mystical and sacred number venerated in religion as the vehicle of human life. Highly regarded in ancient societies it represented seven day, nights, known planets, colours, metals and the ages of man.

Nine was the crooked number of Pythagoras and in Greek is called the diapason, the diapente or diatron. It was sacred to the nine Muses and, as the trinity of the trinities seen as the perfect unity. This explains why the number nine is a mystical number connected to wisdom, mystery and spiritual knowledge. The trinity represented perfect unity, whereas 2 x 3 was the perfect dual, and 3 x 3 the perfect plural. Number thirteen, or ‘unlucky thirteen’ is the numeral of change, misfortune as well as signifying destruction and death, which still persists in folklore.

Fetishism is the belief that objects are possessed of magical properties and is a common occurrence in all pre-industrial communities. For example an idol is an object that is assumed to have powers that are supernatural in origin. Idols are man-made objects that has been invested with powers. Possession of a fetish object means that a spirit has been appropriated by its emblem. In this sense the fetish represents the services of the spirit entity. Etymologically the term fetish refers to a name given to amulets by Portuguese voyagers to the Guinea coast of west Africa. Hence the Portuguese word fetico or feitico which means ‘charm’ or ‘sorcery’. In French it is fetiche. The Latin root is facticius meaning ‘artificial’ and facere meaning ‘to make’.

Another aspect of esoteric magical practice is sex magic which overlaps with witchcraft. Originating with the ideas and practices of Aleister Crowley, who regarded sexual activity as the supreme magical power, orgasm was seen as a magical instrument and means. Practitioners, in their spiritual objectives, employ various types of ritualised sexual activity. The underlying concept of sex magic is that sexual energy has a potency and controlled power that can transcend the real world as it is seen. The harnessing of sexual arousal and orgasm is aimed at magical control. An example is the Wiccan Great Rite where sex magic can be the ritualised simulation of, or actual, intercourse.

9.  Magic and Religion

Emile Durkheim (1915) viewed religion as a social phenomenon whereas magic was individual, an individualistic practice and belief. In other words religion was the antithesis of magic. The practice of magic was seen in polarity as either bad ‘black’ magic or as good or ‘white magic’. The functionalist social anthropologist Malinowski (1948) placed his attention on magic and religion both being sacred as well as both being sanctioned by taboos and underpinned by myth. In other words his interpretation centred on the individual.

Belief in ghosts, gods or spirits describes animism in its purest form. Manipulation of these entities who work directly is the aim of animistic practices.With regard to the antiquity of magic it is believed that it is simpler than animism. Magic consists of a universal system of world-wide belief that is found amongst peoples whose idea of animism is poorly developed (Read, 1920). However for Sir George Frazer religion was characterised as “…rites into which propitiation or worship enters, and regards all others as magical.” (Thomas, 1904).

In consideration of religion, magic and ritual the implication is that prayers a god, a goddess or other spiritual entity to pray to. Therefore, in this context magical thinking has its similarities to belief in religion and its associated rituals. Prayer, sacrifice and supplication or asking the divine for help, are akin to magical thinking, and it is where the “…curious mixture of religion and magic opens up the problem of medieval belief in witchcraft.” (Scott, 1830). The most common form of supplication is prayer to the god or goddess.

Contemporary and modern social and cultural anthropology avers that there is a continuity between magic and the development of religious belief. Both Frazer and Malinowski attempted to prove that ‘magical thinking’ is a form of either proto-science or even pseudoscience. It follows that in the sense the magical tradition, shown by shamanism, the belief of both magic and religion is an interconnectedness of spirit. Controversial within both magic and religion is the practice of sacrifice, both animal and human. A sacrifice would have been offered to a supernatural entity in the form of a demon, a god, or ancestor. The  purpose was to obtain the intervention of the spirit in order to aid the community.

10.  Folklore and Magic

Animistic folk religion echoed in modern folklore involved a communion between a shaman, witch doctor or magician with the spirit dimension. The practice appears to be universal amongst all early and prehistoric communities, implying that “…esoteric thought and folk beliefs can be taken to reflect particular modes of perceiving the world and engaging with it…” (Heva, 2010). This is true for ancient Egypt and Babylon. It is a feature found with the aborigines of Australia and the Maoris of New Zealand. The phenomenon is found amongst the rainforest tribes of South America as well as the tribes living in the African bush. As well as the Maya, Incas, Aztecs it also existed amongst the pagans of Europe.

Magic within fairy tales which have an enduring  magical feature, folk tales and folklore consist of stories and legends about heroes, of enchanted people in the form of animals, and acts of magical aimed at securing the marvellous and the wondrous. Folk belief in terms of magical practice or belief often includes rain making and weather forecasting. As such they can be classified as mimetic magic where magical rituals and actions are not aimed at the intervention by the supernatural. Therefore we have, prima facie, charms for wind, sun and rain which implies that “…esoteric traditions, and broadly similar ideas expressed in folk beliefs, can actually help us to understand how people have perceived and engaged with the anural world in the post-medieval past.” This points to the study of magic in terms of material culture.

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