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The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, by Margaret Alice Murray, [1921], at



THE dwarf race which at one time inhabited Europe has left few concrete remains, but it has survived in innumerable stories of fairies and elves. Nothing, however, is known of the religious beliefs and cults of these early peoples, except the fact that every seven years they made a human sacrifice to their god--.'And aye at every seven years they pay the teind to hell'--and that like the Khonds they stole children from the neighbouring races and brought them up to be the victims.

That there was a strong connexion between witches and fairies has been known to all students of fairy lore. I suggest that the cult of the fairy or primitive race survived until less than three hundred years ago, and that the people who practised it were known as witches. I have already pointed out that many of the witch-beliefs and practices coincide with those of an existing dwarf race, viz. the Lapps. The Devil and the witches entered freely into the fairy mounds, the Devil is often spoken of as a fairy man, and he consorts with the Queen of Elfhame; fairy gold which turns to rubbish is commonly given by the Devil to the witches; and the name Robin is almost a generic name for the Devil, either as a man or as his substitute the familiar. The other name for the fairy Robin Goodfellow is Puck, which derives through the Gaelic Bouca from the Slavic Bog, which means God.

The evidence given below shows the close connexion between the fairies and the witches, and shows also the witches' belief in the superiority of the fairies to themselves in the matter of magic and healing powers.

1431. Joan of Arc. Not far from Domremy there is a certain tree that is called the Ladies' Tree [Arbor Dominarum], others call it the Fairies' Tree, Arbor Fatalium, gallice des Faées], beside which is a spring [which cured fevers]. It is a great tree, a beech [fagus], from which comes the may [unde venit mayum, gallice le beau may]. It belongs to Seigneur Pierre de Bourlemont. Old people, not of her lineage, said that fairy-ladies haunted there [conversabantur]. Had heard her godmother Jeanne, wife of the Mayor, say she had seen fairy-women there. She herself had never seen fairies at the tree that she knew of. She made garlands at the tree, with other girls, for the image of the Blessed Mary of Domremy. Sometimes with the other children she hung garlands on the tree, sometimes they left them, sometimes they took them away. 'She had danced there with the other children, but not since she was grown up. She had sung there more than she had danced. She had heard that it was said 'Jeanne received her mission at the tree of the fairy-ladies'.' The saints [Katharine and Margaret] came and spoke to her at the spring beside the Fairies' tree, but she would not say if they came to the tree itself.[2]

Denied having a mandrake, but knew there was one near the Fairies' tree.[3]

My godmother, who saw the fairy-ladies, was held as a good woman, not a diviner or a witch.[4]

Refused to say if she believed fairies to be evil spirits.[5]

She did not put chaplets on the Fairies' tree in honour of SS. Katharine and Margaret.[6]

Had never done anything with, or knew anything of, those who came in the air with the fairies [gallice en l'erre avec les faées]. Had heard they came on Thursdays, but considered it witchcraft.[7]

4th Article of Accusation. Jeanne was not instructed in her youth in the belief and primitive faith, but was imbued by certain old women in the use of witchcraft, divination, and other superstitious works or magic arts; many inhabitants of those villages have been noted from antiquity for the aforesaid misdeeds. Jeanne herself has said that she had heard from her godmother, and from many people, of visions and apparitions of Fairies, or Fairy spirits [gallice faées]; by others also she has been taught and imbued with wicked and pernicious errors of such spirits, insomuch that in the trial before you she confessed that up to this time she did not know that Fairies were evil spirits. Answer: As to the Fairy-ladies, she did not know what it was. As to instruction she learnt to believe and was well and duly taught to do what a good child should. As to her godmother she referred to what she had said before.[8]

5th Article. Near the village of Domremy is a certain great, big, and ancient tree called vulgarly The Charmed Fairy-tree of Bourlemont[9] [l'arbre charmine faée de Bourlemont]; beside the tree is a spring; round these gather, it is said, evil spirits called fairies, with whom those who use witchcraft are accustomed to dance at night, going round the tree and spring. Answer: as to the tree and spring, referred to her previous answers; denied the rest.[10]

6th Article. Jeanne frequented the said tree and spring alone, chiefly at night, sometimes in the day most often at the hour that

[1. Quicherat, i, p. 67; Murray, pp. 25-6.

2. Id., i, p. 87; M., p. 42.

3. Id., i, pp. 88-9; M., p. 43.

4. Id., i, p. 177; M., p. 80.

5. Id., i, p. 178; M., 80.

6. Id., i, p. 186; M., p. 84.

7. Id., i, p. 187; M., p. 84.

8. Id., i, p. 209; M., p. 91.

9. Bour-le-mont, cp. Bour-jo, 'a word of unknown derivation'. See Walter Scott, Witchcraft and Demonology.

10. Q., i, p. 2 10; M., p. 91.]

divine service was celebrated in church, in order to be alone: and dancing went round the spring and tree; afterwards hung many garlands of various herbs and flowers on the branches of the tree, made with her own hands, saying and singing before and after, certain incantations and songs with certain invocations, witch. crafts and other misdeeds; which [garlands] the following morning, were not found. Answer: Referred for part to previous answers, denied the rest.[1]

23rd Article. Her letters showed that she had consulted evil spirits. Denied ever having done anything by inspiration of evil spirits.[2]

1566. John Walsh, of Netherberry, Dorset. He being demaunded how he knoweth when anye man is bewytched: He sayth that he knew it partlye by the Feries, and saith that ther be iii. kindes of Feries, white, greene, and black. Which when he is disposed to vse, hee speaketh with them vpon hyls, where as there is great heapes of earth, as namely in Dorsetshire. And betwene the houres of xii. and one at noone, or at midnight he vseth them. Whereof (he sayth) the blacke Feries be the woorst.[3]

1576. Bessie Dunlop of Lyne, Ayrshire. Thom Reid apperit in hir awin hous to hir, about the xij hour of the day, quhair thair was sittand thre tailzeouris, and hir awin gudeman; and he tuke hir apperoun and led hir to the dure with him, and sche followit, and zeid [went] vp with him to the kill-end, quhair he forbaid hir to spelk or feir for onye thing sche hard or saw; and quhene thai had gane ane lytle pece fordwerd, sche saw twelf persounes, aucht wemene and four men: The men wer cled in gentilmennis clething, and the wemene had all plaiddis round about thame, and wer verrie semelie lyke to se; and Thorne was with thame: And demandit, Gif sche knew ony of thame? Ansuerit, Nane, except Thom. Demandit, What thai said to hir? Ansuerit, Thai baid hir sit down, and said, 'Welcum, Bessie, will thow go with ws?' Bot sche ansuerit nocht; becaus Thom had forbidden hir. And forder declarit, That sche knew nocht quhat purpois thai had amangis thaime, onlie sche saw thair lippis move; and within a schort space thai pairtit all away; and ane hiddeous vglie sowche of wind followit thame: and sche lay seik quhill Thom came agane bak fra thame. [In the margin, 'Confessit and fylit.'] Item, Sche being demandit, Gif sche sperit at Thom quhat persounes thai war? Ansuerit, That thai war the gude wychtis that wynnit in the Court of Elfame; quha come thair to desyre hir to go with thame: And forder, Thom desyrit hir to do the sam; quha ansuerit, 'Sche saw na proffeit to gang thai kynd of gaittis, vnles sche kend quhairfor'. Thom said, 'Seis thow nocht me, baith meit-worth, claith-worth, and gude aneuch lyke in persoun, and [he] suld make hir far better nor euer sche was?' Sche ansuerit, 'That sche duelt with hir awin husband and bairnis, and culd nocht leif thame.' And swa Thom began to be verrie crabit [angry] with hir, and said, 'Gif

[1. Q., i, pp. 211-12; M., pp. 91-2.

2. Id., i, p. 242; M., pp. 96-7.

3. Examination of John Walsh.]

swa sche thocht, sche wald get lytill gude of him.' Interrogat, Gif sche neuir askit the questioun at him, Quhairfoir he com to hir mair [than] ane vthir bodye? Ansuerit, Remembring hir, quhen sche was lyand in chyld-bed-lair, with ane of hir laiddis, that ane stout woman com in to hir, and sat doun on the forme besyde hir, and askit ane drink at hir, and sche gaif hir; quha alsua tauld hir, that that barne wald de, and that hir husband suld mend of his seiknes. The said Bessie ansuerit, that sche remembrit wele thairof; and Thom said, 'That was the Quene of Elfame his maistres, quha had commandit him to wait vpoun hir, and to do hir gude. Confessit and fylit.[1]

1588. Alesoun Peirsoun of Byrehill, Fifeshire. Was conuict for hanting and repairing with the gude nichtbouris and Quene of Elfame, thir diners 3eiris bypast, as scho had confesst be hir depositiounis, declaring that scho could nocht say reddelie how lang scho wes with thame; and that scho had friendis in that court quhilk wes of hir awin blude, quha had gude acquentance of the Quene of Elphane . . . And that scho saw nocht the Quene thir sewin 3eir: And that scho had mony guid friendis in that court, bot wer all away now: And that scho wes sewin 3eir ewill handlit in the Court of Elfane and had kynd freindis thair, bot had na will to visseit thame eftir the end. . . . In Grange-mure thair come ane man to hir, cled in grene clothis, quha said to hir, Gif scho wald be faithfuill, he wald do hir guid. He gaid away thane, and apperit to hir att ane vthir tyme, ane lustie mane, with mony mene and wemen with him: And that scho sanit hir and prayit, and past with thame forder nor scho could tell; and saw with thame pypeing and mirrynes and good scheir.[3]

1589. Beatrix Baonensis, in Lorraine. Etliche geben Späher, etliche Vögel oder sonst nicht viel besonders, als da sein möchte gemüntzt Geld aus Rindern Ledder, und wenn sie dergleichen nichts haben, so verschafft es ihnen ihr Geist, auf dass sie staffirt seyn.[3]

1593. Another of my neighbours had his wife much troubled, and he went to her [the white witch], and she told him his wife was haunted with a fairie.[4]

1593. She had three or foure impes, some call them puckrels, one like a grey cat, another like a weasel, another like a mouse.[5]

1597. Christian Livingston of Leith. Scho afferinit that hir dochter was tane away with the Farie-folk, and declarit to Gothrayis wyff, than being with barne, that it was a man chyld scho was with; as it provit in deid: And that all the knawlege scho had was be hir dochter, wha met with the Fairie.[6]

1597. Isobell Strathaquhin and her daughter, of Aberdeen. Theye depone that hir self confessis that quhat skill so ever scho lies, scho hed it of hir mother; and hir mother learnit at ane elf man quha lay with hir.[7]

[1. Pitcairn, i, pt. ii, pp. 52-3, 56-7.

2. Id., i, pt. ii, pp. 162-3.

3. Remigius, pt. i, p. 55

4. Giffard, p, 10; Percy Soc. viii.

5. Id. ib., p. 9.

6. Pitcairn, ii, p. 25.

7. Spalding Club Misc., i, p. 177.]

1597. Andro Man of Aberdeen. Thriescoir yeris sensyne or thairby, the Devill, thy maister, com to thy motheris hous, in the liknes and scheap of a woman, quhom thow callis the Quene of Elphen, and was delyverit of a barne, as apperit to the their . . . Thou confessis that be the space of threttie twa yeris sensyn or thairby, thow begud to have carnall deall with that devilische spreit, the Quene of Elphen, on quhom thow begat dyveris bairnis, quhom thow hes sene sensyn . . . Vpon the Ruidday in harvest, in this present yeir, quhilk fell on ane Wedinsday, thow confessis and affermis, thow saw Christsonday cum owt of the snaw in liknes of a staig, and that the Quene of Elphen was their, and vtheris with hir, rydand vpon quhyt haiknayes, and that thay com to the Binhill, and Binlocht, quhair thay vse commonlie to convene, and that thay quha convenis with thame kissis Christsonday and the Quene of Elphenis airss, as thow did thy selff. Item, thow affermis that the elphis hes schapes and claythis lyk men, and that thay will have fair coverit taiblis, and that thay ar bot schaddowis, bot ar starker nor men, and that thay have playing and dansing quhen thay pleas; and als that the quene is verray plesand, and wilbe auld and young quhen scho pleissis: scho mackis any kyng quhom scho pleisis, and lyis with any scho lykis . . . The said Andro confessis that Chrystsonday rydis all the tyme that he is in thair cumpanie, and lies carnall deall with thaim; also, that the men that cumis with thame, hes do with the Quene of Elfane.[1] . . . Thou confesses that the devil thy master, whom thou terms Christsunday, and supposes to be an angel and God's godson--albeit he has a thraw by God, and sways to the Quene of Elphin--is raised by the speaking of the word Benedicite. Suchlike thou affirms that the Queen of Elphin has a grip of all the craft, but Christsunday is the goodman, and has all power under God.[2]

1608. Lyons district. Ils dansent deux à deux, & par fois l'vn çà & l'autre là; estans telles danses semblables à celles des Fées, vrais Diables incorporez, qui regnoient il n'y a pas long temps.[3]

1015. Jonet Drever of Orkney. To be convict and giltie of the fostering of ane bairne in the hill of Westray to the fary folk callit of hir our guid nichtbouris And in haveing carnall deall with hir And haveing conversation with the fary xxvj 3eiris bygane In respect of her awne confessioun.[4]

1616. Katherine Caray of Orkney. At the doun going of the sun ane great number of fairie men mett her together with a maister man.[5]

1616. Elspeth Reoch of Orkney. Sho confest that quhen shoe wes ane young las of twelf yeiris of age or therby and haid wanderrit out of Caithnes quher sho wes borne to Lochquhaber ye cam to Allane McKeldowies wyfe quha wes your ant That she upon ane day being out of the loch in the contrey and returning and being at the Loch syd awaiting quhen the boit sould fetch hir in That thair cam tua men to her ane cled in blak and the uther with ane grein tartane plaid about him And that the man with the plaid said to her she was

[1. Spalding Club Misc., i, pp. 119, 121,125.

2. Burton, i, p. 253.

3. Boguet, p. 132.

4. Maitland Club Misc., li, p. 167.

5. Dalyell, p. 536.]

ane prettie And he wald lerne her to ken and sie ony thing she wald desyre . . . And thairefter within tua yeir she bure her first bairne And being delyverit in hir sisteris hous the blak man cam to her that first came to hir in Lochquhaber And callit him selff ane farie man On yule day she confest the devell quhilk she callis the farie man lay with her At quhilk tyme he bade hir leave Orkney.[1]

1618. Joan Willimot of Leicester. This Examinate saith, That shee hath a spirit which shee calleth Pretty, which was giuen vnto her by William Berry of Langholme in Rutlandshire, whom she serued three yeares; and that her Master when hee gaue it vnto her, willed her to open her mouth, and hee would blow into her a Fairy which should doe her good; and that shee opened her mouth, and he did blow into her mouth; and that presently after his blowing, there, came out of her mouth a Spirit, which stood vpon the ground in the shape and forme of a Woman, which Spirit did aske of her her Soule, which shee then promised vnto it.[2]

1633. Isobel Sinclair of Orkney. Sex times at the reathes of the year, shoe hath bein controlled with the Phairie.[3]

1653. 'Yorkshire. There was (he saith) as I have heard the story credibly reported in this Country a Man apprehended for suspicion of Witchcraft, he was of that sort we call white Witches, which are such as do cures beyond the ordinary reasons and deductions of our usual practitioners, and are supposed (and most part of them truly) to do the same by ministration of spirits (from whence under their noble favours, most Sciences at first grow) and therefore are by good reason provided against by our Civil Laws, as being ways full of danger and deceit, and scarce ever otherwise obtained than by a devillish compact of the exchange of ones Soul to that assistant spirit, for the honour of its Mountebankery. What this man did was with a white powder which, he said, he received from the Fairies, and that going to a Hill he knocked three times, and the Hill opened, and he had access to, and conversed with a visible people; and offered, that if any Gentleman present would either go himself in person, or send his servant, he would conduct them thither, or shew them the place and persons from whom he had his skill.' [Hotham's account ends here; Webster continues first in his own words and then in inverted commas as if quoting, but gives no authority.] To this I shall only add thus much, that the man was accused for invoking and calling upon evil spirits, and was a very simple and illiterate person to any mans judgment, and had been formerly very poor, but had gotten some pretty little meanes to maintain himself, his Wife and diverse small children, by his cures done with this white powder, of which there were sufficient proofs, and the judge asking him how he came by the powder, he told a story to this effect. 'That one night before day was gone, as he was going home from his labour, being very sad

[1. County Folklore, iii, Orkney, pp. 112-14; Maitland Club Misc., ii, pp. 188-9.

2. Wonderfull Discoverie of Margaret and Phillip Flower, E 3.

3. Dalyell, p. 470.]

and full of heavy thoughts, not knowing how to get meat and drink for his Wife and Children, he met a fair Woman in fine cloaths, who asked him why he was so sad, and he told her it was by reason of his poverty, to which she said, that if he would follow her counsel she would help him to that which would serve to get him a good living: to which he said he would consent with all his heart, so it were not by unlawful ways: she told him it should not be by any such ways, but by doing of good and curing of sick people; and so warning him strictly to meet her there the next night at the same time, she de parted from him, and he went home. And the next night at the time appointed he duly waited, and she (according to promise) came and told him that it was well he came so duly, otherwise he had missed of that benefit, that she intended to do unto him, and so bade him follow her and not be afraid. Thereupon she led him to a little Hill and she knocked three times, and the Hill opened, and they went in, and came to a fair hall, wherein was a Queen sitting in great state, and many people about her, and the Gentlewoman that brought him, presented him to the Queen, and she said he was welcom, and bid the Gentlewoman give him some of the white powder, and teach him how to use it. which she did, and gave him a little wood box full of the white powder, and bad him give 2 or 3 grains of it to any that were sick, and it would heal them, and so she brought him forth of the Hill, and so they parted. And being asked by the judge whether the place within the Hill, which he called a Hall, were light or dark, he said indifferent, as it is with us in the twilight; and being asked how he got more powder, he said when he wanted he went to that Hill, and knocked three times, and said every time I am coming, I am coming, whereupon it opened, and he going in was conducted by the aforesaid Woman to the Queen, and so had more powder given him. This was the plain and simple story (however it may be judged of) that he told before the judge, the whole Court, and the jury, and there being no proof, but what cures he had done to very many, the jury did acquit him.'[1]

1655. It might be here very seasonable to enquire into the nature of those large dark Rings in the grass, which they call Fairy Circles, whether they be the Rendezvouz of Witches, or the dancing place of those little Puppet Spirits which they call Elves or Fairies.[2]

1661. Jonet Watson of Dalkeith. She confessed that three months before the Devill apeired vnto her, in the liknes of ane prettie boy, in grein clothes. As also about the tyme of the last Baille-fyre night, shoe was at a Meitting in Newtoun-dein with the Deavill, who had grein cloathes vpone him, and ane blak hatt vpone his head wher schoe denyd Christ, and took her self to be the servant of the Deivill.[3]

1662. Isobel Gowdie of Auldearne. I was in the Downie-hillis, and got meat ther from the Qwein of Fearrie, mor than I could eat. The Qwein of Fearrie is brawlie clothed in whyt linens, and in whyt and browne cloathes, &c.; and the King of Fearrie is a braw mail, weill favoured, and broad faced, &-c. Ther wes elf-bullis rowtting

[1. Webster, pp. 300.

2. More, p. 232.

3. Pitcairn, iii, p. 601.]

and skoylling wp and downe thair and affrighted me . . . As for Elf-arrow-heidis, the Devill shapes them with his awin hand, and syne deliueris thame to Elf-boyes, who whyttis and dightis them with a sharp thing lyk a paking needle . . . We went in to the Downie hillis; the hill opened, and we cam to an fair and large braw rowme in the day tym. Thair ar great bullis rowtting and skoylling ther, at the entrie, quhilk feared me . . . The Devill wold giw ws the brawest lyk money that ewer wes coyned; within fowr and twantie houris it vold be horse-muke.[1]

1662. Janet Breadheld of Auldearne. He gaw me ane piece of money, lyk a testain . . . and gaw me an vthir piece of money, lyk the first, bot they both turned read, and I got nothing for thaim.[2]

1662. Bute. [The devil] 'gave her ane elf errow stone to shott him [a child of seven] which she did ten dayes therafter that the child dyed imediately therafter. Jonet Morisoune declares the devill told her it was the fayries that took John Glas child's lyfe. Mcfersone in Keretoule his dochter lay sick of a very unnaturall disease. The disease quhilk ailed her was blasting with the faryes and that she healed her with herbes. Item being questioned about her heileing of Alester Bannatyne who was sick of the lyk disease answred that he was blasted with the fairyes also and that she heiled him thereof with herbs and being questioned anent hir heileing of Patrick Glas dochter Barbara Glas answred that she was blasted with the faryes also. Being inquired quhat difference was betwix shooting and blasting sayes that quhen they are shott ther is no recoverie for it and if the shott be in the heart they died presently bot if it be not at the heart they will die in a while with it yet will at last die with it and that blasting is a whirlwinde that the fayries raises about that persone quhich they intend to wrong quhich may be healed two wayes ether by herbs or by charming.'[3]

1664. Alice Duke of Wincanton, Somerset. When the Devil doth anything for her, she calls for him by the name of Robin, upon which he appears.[4]

1664. Elizabeth Style of Wincanton, Somerset. When she hath a desire to do harm, she calls the Spirit by the name of Robin.[5]

1670. Jean Weir of Edinburgh. When she keeped a school at Dalkeith, and teached childering, ane tall woman came to the declarant's hous when the childering were there; she had, as appeared to her, ane chyld upon her back, and on or two at her foot; and the said woman desyred that the declarant should imploy her to spick for her to the Queen of Farie, and strik and battle in her behalf with the said Queen (which was her own words).[6]

1677. Inveraray. Donald McIlmichall was tried 'for that horrid cryme of corresponding with the devill'; the whole evidence being that he entered a fairy hill where he met many men and women 'and he playd on trumps to them quhen they danced'.[7]

[1. Pitcairn, iii, pp. 604, 607, 611, 613.

2 Id., iii, p. 617.

3. Highland Papers, iii, pp. 19, 23, 27.

4. Glanvil, pt. ii, p. 152.

5. Id., ii, p. 137.

6. Law, p. 27 note. Highland Papers, iii, pp. 36-8.]

1697. Margaret Fulton in Renfrewshire. She was reputed a Witch, has the Mark of it, and acknowledged that her Husband had brought her back from the Fairies.[1]

1697. James Lindsay, alias Curat, in Renfrewshire. He was called the Gleid, or Squint-Ey'd Elff.[2]

Nineteenth century. It was the common rumour that Elphin Irving came not into the world like the other sinful creatures of the earth, but was one of the Kane-bairns of the fairies, whilk they had to pay to the enemy of man's salvation every seventh year. The poor lady-fairy,--a mother's aye a mother, be she Elve's flesh or Eve's flesh,--hid her Elf son beside the christened flesh in Marion Irving's cradle, and the auld enemy lost his prey for a time . . . And touching this lad, ye all ken his mother was a hawk of an uncannie nest, a second cousin of Kate Kimmer, of Barfloshan, as rank a witch as ever rode on ragwort.[3]

Next: Appendix II. Trial of Silvain Nevillon and Gentien le Clerc